Lower paid essential workers face highest risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19

Report finds those most at risk include carers, meat plant staff, taxi drivers, security guards, cleaners and migrant workers

Frontline workers who tend to be in lower paid and less secure professions but are considered among the most essential to the economic and social health of Ireland, face the highest risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19 infection, a new report has found.

An analysis by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) shows some of those most at risk include carers, meat plant employees, taxi drivers, security guards, cleaners and migrant workers.

Policies to ensure they are adequately protected as the country continues to battle the pandemic is needed, its authors say.

The Differences in Risk of Severe Outcomes from Covid-19 Across Occupations in Ireland report is published on Tuesday.


It attempts to identify the highest risk groups by looking at a combination of existing health conditions, age and social deprivation rates across various occupations and derived from multiple existing data sources.

These three categories have been linked to worse health outcomes, including more severe illness, hospitalisation and mortality.

The authors examined the prevalence of chronic illness given the consequences such conditions can have for those who contract Covid-19.

More than 15 per cent of workers generally have a Covid-19-vulnerable illness such as chronic heart disease and respiratory disease, diabetes, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cancer, kidney disease and asthma. However, those most likely to have conditions are more common in some sectors than others.

Those in housekeeping and related services have the highest proportion of underlying conditions that could cause complications with Covid-19 infection at 33.9 per cent. They are followed in order of risk by road transport drivers (25.8 per cent).

In terms of specific jobs, the ESRI report notes that carers in particular have high rates of underlying health conditions, are older, and are more likely to live in more deprived areas.

As of June 6th, there were 1,048 confirmed cases among workers in meat processing plants.

“We find that, despite having a younger age profile (only 17 per cent were aged 50 years and older), they have high risk to Covid-19 based on their Covid-19-vulnerable chronic illness rates (19 per cent) and living in more deprived areas. This puts them at high risk to both exposure and severe outcomes.”

Chronic illnesses

A quarter of the 70,000 road transport drivers, including large goods vehicles (LGV), vans, buses and taxis, report having such serious diseases. Taxi drivers are constantly interacting with the public, increasing their risk of infection, the report notes.

"We also know that taxi drivers have high rates of other chronic illnesses, and have been shown to have a high mortality risk from Covid-19 in England and Wales."

Housekeepers who may be returning to workplaces as the economy reopens are also among the higher risk groups. This is also probably the case for general migrant workers due to lower dissemination of public health advice or the probability of living in more overcrowded homes.

“Workers in essential occupations continued working throughout the crisis. In addition to facing greater exposure to Covid-19, many of these essential workers are older, live in more deprived areas, and have greater rates of Covid-19-vulnerable chronic illness.”

The authors also highlight how the health crisis has further exposed the socio-economic disparities between various occupations in Ireland.

“Often it is those occupations most essential to the running of society and the economy that tend to have workers who are in lower paying and less secure professions,” they write.

“Yet these workers have been at the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis, a frontline that spans both healthcare and non-healthcare workers.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times