The government called for Covid to be classified as an occupational disease |  Coronavirus

The government called for Covid to be classified as an occupational disease | Coronavirus

Ministers should urgently classify Covid-19 as an occupational disease to prompt employers to reduce the risk of exposure and help workers access essential benefits, the TUC has said.

The UK is out of step with other major countries that have recognized Covid as a disease that people can contract in the course of work, particularly in certain sectors, it said.

The umbrella body for UK trade unions is calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to use its powers to “prescribe” Covid. If the DWP agrees, Covid will be treated in the same way as, for example, a disease related to workplace exposure such as asbestos-related cancer, which is a known risk to people who have worked in construction or firefighting.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, accused ministers of “shocking negligence” for not already prescribing Covid, given the significant evidence that people are getting it at work.

“If you become ill because of your work, with life-changing consequences, you should be properly supported. But the ministers have still not added Covid to the list of occupational diseases, she said. “Two years into this pandemic, that’s shocking negligence. And it leaves workers unfairly exposed.”

In a report, the TUC says: “At least 20,000 people die prematurely each year from occupational disease as a result of occupational disease. There are more than 70 prescribed “occupational diseases” known to be a risk from certain jobs. These diseases occur as a result of work that requires close contact with a hazardous substance or circumstance.”

Someone who has a diagnosis related to their job may claim financial support.

Research by the International Labor Organization has shown that many other nations, including Australia, Canada and China, already recognize Covid as an occupational disease, subject to proof of infection through a job role. In France, it is automatically treated as that for healthcare personnel, even if the latter must have been affected by a severe form of coronavirus.

At least 20 of the 50 states in the US assume that many first responders and key workers who contract Covid – including paramedics and firefighters – did so while on the job.

In the UK, ministers can designate an illness as an occupational disease subject to guidance from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, an independent body that assesses the evidence. However, in March last year it published a review which showed that some people were at double the risk of getting Covid if they worked in areas such as nursing, social care, bus or taxi driving, food processing, retail or security work.

Employers are obliged to report cases of prescribed illness to the Directorate of Health and Safety and their local council. Employees can then access benefits and compensation through the workers’ compensation scheme to help them cope with illness and disability.

The British Medical Association and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus, made up of MPs and peers, already support the designation of Covid as an occupational hazard. Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the APPG, called for swift progress. “Ministers cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand,” she said.

A government spokesperson emphasized the benefits already available to people whose ability to work is hampered by having Covid or prolonged Covid.

“For anyone with a disability or long-term health condition, including long-term Covid, there is a strong financial safety net, including statutory sick pay, Esa and universal credit,” they said.

“Pip is also available to those who have daily life and/or mobility needs for three months, and are expected to have these for at least another nine months. Pip assessments are carried out by trained healthcare professionals, who carefully assess how a person’s disability or long-term health condition affects their daily life.”

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