As the coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread in the UK, many workers have been told to work from home, some have been furloughed, and others have begun using personal protective equipment (PPE) to try to contain and prevent the spread of the infection. We have obtained an estimate of exposure to disease (generally) and physical proximity for UK occupations based on US analysis of these factors1, using 2019 data.
While working practices and conditions may be slightly different in the US for similar occupations, these estimates offer valuable insight into occupations that involve working in close proximity with others and those that are regularly exposed to diseases. This is a useful indication of which roles may be more likely to come into contact with people with COVID-19, based on what these roles normally entail.
There is a clear correlation between exposure to disease, and physical proximity to others across all occupations. Healthcare workers such as nurses and dental practitioners unsurprisingly both involve being exposed to disease on a daily basis, and they require close contact with others, though during the pandemic they are more likely to be using PPE.
Healthcare workers are exposed to disease on a daily basis and require close contact with others
Occupations where workers are very rarely exposed to disease and don’t work near people, include artists, marketing associate professionals, and agricultural machinery drivers.
There are also occupations that are in the position of regularly being close to others, but not being directly exposed to diseases. Normally, workers in elementary occupations and hospitality roles, like bar staff, chefs, and hairdressers, would work within arm's length of people but not generally be exposed to disease. Because of the nature of these roles requiring close contact with people, employees in these occupations may be more likely to come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, but many of these types of businesses are currently closed to the public.
Some elementary occupations are not exposed to disease, but do require close contact with others
Workers in the education sector have lower exposure to disease than healthcare workers, but primary and nursery education teaching professionals, and special needs education professionals work in close proximity with pupils, and are more likely to be exposed to disease than secondary or higher education teaching professionals.
Education workers have slightly lower exposure to disease and proximity to others
Some occupations involve working very closely with others (within arms length and often touching) and exposure to disease on a daily basis – the vast majority are healthcare professions. Looking at the characteristics of the workers in each of these occupations provides an insight into who might be more likely to be exposed to others with COVID-19 while doing their job.
There are more women working in occupations that are more likely to be in frequent contact with people and also frequently exposed to disease. Three in four workers (75%) in these roles are women. These include dental nurses, midwives, and veterinary nurses, where women make up the majority of workers.
Characteristics of workers in highest exposure occupations
One in five of those working in these occupations are aged 55 years or over, the same proportion as in the working population generally. Around half (50%) of those employed as care escorts are aged 55 years or over. Workers of this age are also over-represented in occupations like ambulance staff excluding paramedics (37%), houseparents (adults responsible for children in a residential childcare establishment, usually living in the same home) and residential wardens (35%), and prison service officers (24%).
One in five workers in these occupations are from black and minority ethnic (BAME)2 groups, compared with 11% of the working population. These workers make up around just over a quarter of the workers who are dental practitioners (28%), medical practitioners (28%) and ophthalmic opticians (27%). Additionally, they are over-represented in four other occupations – nurses, medical radiographers, nursing auxiliaries and assistants, and medical and dental technicians.
When it comes to pay, 6 out of 16 of these occupations have a median pay of lower than £13.213, the median hourly pay across the UK. Care escorts (who accompany vulnerable people on local journeys), dental nurses, and nursing auxiliaries and assistants have the lowest median pay per hour, ranging from £9.45 to £10.93.
For statistics and analysis about COVID-19-related deaths by occupation, please read our release.
- With thanks to the New York Times for producing the equivalent analysis for US occupations.
- The BAME group includes: Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups; Indian; Pakistani; Bangladeshi; Chinese; any other Asian background; Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
- This measure of pay comes from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). It is hourly earnings excluding overtime. It's calculated as (gross pay excluding overtime/basic paid hours). The pay period in question was not affected by absence. It includes people aged 16+ both full-time and part-time.
Proximity to others and exposure to disease are variables from the O*NET database about the context in which people work, with a value of 0 to 100. Exposure to disease and physical proximity were originally obtained using O*NET data based on US Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.
O*NET ask a number of questions about individuals’ working conditions and day-to-day tasks of their job. To calculate the proximity and exposure measures, the questions asked are:
i) How physically close to other people are you when you perform your current job?
ii) How often does your current job require that you be exposed to diseases or infection?
Respondents are asked to provide a response on a scale between one and five . For the proximity question, one indicates that the respondent does not work near other people (beyond 100ft.), while five indicates that they are very close to others (near touching). For the exposure question, one indicates no exposure (never) and five indicates daily exposure. For more information on these questions, please see Instructions for Work Context Questionnaire questions 21 and 29.
The responses to these questions are standardised to a scale ranging from 0 to 100 using the following equation:
S = ( (O-L)/(H-L)) * 100
S = standardised score
O = original rating score between one and five
L = lowest possible score (that is, one)
H = highest possible score (that is, five)
For example, for physical proximity, an original score (O) of four is converted to a standardised score of 75 (75 = [ [4 – 1] / [5 – 1] * 100).
The standardised physical proximity measure is defined by:
0 – I do not work near other people (beyond 100 ft.)
25 – I work with others but not closely (for example, private office)
50 – Slightly close (for example, shared office)
75 – Moderately close (at arm’s length)
100 – Very close (near touching)
The standardised exposure to disease or infections measure is defined by:
0 – Never
25 – Once a year or more but not every month
50 – Once a month or more but not every week
75 – Once a week or more but not every day
100 – Every day
Mapping to UK SOC codes
To show exposure to disease and physical proximity by UK SOC codes, US SOC codes were first mapped to ISCO-08 codes and then mapped from ISCO-08 codes to UK SOC codes.
The Annual Population Survey
This analysis uses the Annual Population Survey (APS) January to December 2019. More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the APS QMI.
Only respondents who said they were employed were included in this analysis. The Annual Survey of Hours and Earning (ASHE) is the primary source of data for earnings analysis in the UK and therefore was used here to find median hourly pay for each SOC code. The period covered by the ASHE data is April 2019.