The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) has recently published an interim report into the relationship between COVID-19 and occupation (‘COVID-19 and occupation: position paper 48’). The IIAC are an independent scientific body who advise the UK Government on whether benefits should be payable for certain industrial injuries and diseases.
The IIAC’s report acknowledges that it may be too early to make firm recommendations due to a lack of relevant studies and evidence. However we are now over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and it is clear that impact of this on the working population will be long lasting. Research into long COVID is ongoing and it is not yet clear how many people are likely to be affected by this, however the numbers are likely to be significant. A study by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre has found that 70% of patients hospitalised with COVID were still unwell several months after discharge and out of those who had been employed before their diagnosis, almost 20% had been unable to return to work. Further studies are therefore vital and must be considered by the IIAC as soon as possible.
In assessing whether COVID-19 should be considered an occupational disease, the IIAC has looked for evidence on whether there was a doubling of the risk of developing the disease in certain occupations. It is clear from the interim report that certain occupations are more at risk not only of becoming infected with COVID-19, but also of dying as a result of this. This was highlighted by the IIAC’s examination of multiple factors, including occupations listed on death certificates where COVID-19 was the cause, and RIDDOR reports from employers to the Health and Safety Executive.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given testing was not widely available in the general population at the start of the pandemic, many of the studies available relate to workers in health and social care roles. Those in such roles were found to be particularly at risk, both of becoming infected with COVID-19 and of developing a severe form of the condition or dying.
However the IIAC also noted more than doubled risk in other occupations including transport, retail and food processing. In relation to the latter sector, within the UK, there have been several well publicised outbreaks of COVID-19 in food processing settings. It is thought this is a result of difficulties maintaining physical distance, the need for workers to shout to communicate over noisy equipment and in particular the cold, dark environment of meat processing plants. In the retail and transport sectors, it is those in public facing roles who have the highest risk.
Despite the overwhelming evidence available that workers in certain occupations are developing serious illness or dying, the IIAC disappointingly decided there is currently not enough evidence for COVID-19 to become a prescribed disease. The report does indicate that the evidence of doubling of the risk in certain occupations may be a “pathway to potential prescription” depending on the outcome of further research.
Industrial Injuries Benefit was devolved in April 2020 but despite this Scotland currently does not have its own Advisory Council. There have been calls for a Scottish Employment Injury Advisory Council and MSP Mark Griffin has lodged a Bill regarding this. If such a Council were established, they could go further than the UK IIAC to better reflect modern working practices and the Scottish demographic by introducing benefit for those who become ill through COVID-19 contracted at work. This would bring Scotland in line with best international practice. As acknowledged in the IIAC’s report, several countries have already recognised COVID-19 as a work related disease, including Belgium and Norway who consider it to be a compensable occupational disease.
In Scotland, currently the only remedy for those who suffer COVID-19 as a result of their work activities is to seek compensation through the civil courts.
For further information on how Thompsons can help you visit or COVID 19 legal hub or call 0800 0891 331.
Blog by Claire Campbell, Solicitor