This report outlines the TUC’s concerns regarding under-reporting of COVID-19 work-related incidents using RIDDOR, and what can be done to ensure official data better reflects the reality of occupational exposure and fatalities.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) require a ‘responsible person’ to report instances - this is generally the employer. Reports must be made within 10 days of the incident. If an employer knowingly fails to make a report via RIDDOR, they could face a fine.
The report points out that employers are obliged to report cases of COVID-19 infection where exposure occurs as a result of a person's work. As with any other disease, cases of occupational exposure, or death, must be recorded in official data, and allow for an investigation by the safety regulator where necessary.
It quotes HSE guidance, which says the employer “must make a judgement, based on the information available, as to whether or not a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 is likely to have been caused by an occupational exposure”.
In cases where a worker has died with COVID-19, HSE advice says there must be “reasonable evidence that a work-related exposure caused the worker's death” for it to be reportable.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, a total of 32,022 COVID-19 infections and 387 deaths were reported under RIDDOR, according to HSE’s database. The number of deaths being investigated is even lower. The HSE states that, of the 387 figure, some are found to be duplicate reports, diseases misreported as fatalities, or from a workplace outside HSE’s remit and therefore considered by an alternative regulator. As a result, the cases referred to RIDDOR which the regulator accepts as viable is even lower, and as of 19 May 2021, the HSE had investigated or was in the process of investigating 216 COVID fatalities.
The report makes suggestions for areas that need to change due to the fact that RIDDOR reports on COVID are scarce; lack of data on occupational exposure and fatalities has made it more difficult to track where outbreaks are occurring and where problem employers or workplace adjustments need identifying. There are several reforms which could help improve this situation says the report, and it suggests the following:
Clearer advice - with regards to how an employer reaches a reasonable “judgement” to determine whether a COVID-19 diagnosis was the result of occupational exposure.
Union reporting - recognised trade unions should be able to register a RIDDOR report triggering an investigation, as well as employers.
Backdate reports - employers should be encouraged to make backdated reports, given that there is now greater knowledge about how COVID-19 is spread.
Equalities - TUC believes adding ethnicity to the RIDDOR reporting process will help inform the understanding of associations between racial inequality and health inequality going forward.
Promotion - the government should urgently communicate to employers their duty to report all instances of COVID-19 exposure and deaths under RIDDOR.
Invest in regulation - COVID-19 has further exposed the need for effective, quality enforcement.
The report is available in full here.
TUC May 2021