Bus drivers are at double the risk of being hospitalized with severe COVID-19 in the later stages of the pandemic, and some occupations in education and healthcare are also at risk of developing serious illness. This is shown by a study at the University of Gothenburg.
The study is based on a large amount of data from several different registers, with a total of 552,562 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection and 5,985 cases of severe COVID-19 infection. The cases are based on hospitalizations in October 2020 to December 2021, then crossed over to the person’s employment in November of the previous year. This study compares jobs that involve working with others and jobs that have little or no close contact with co-workers or the community.
Although the risk of hospitalization due to severe COVID-19 was found to be increased especially among bus and tram drivers (98% increased risk), the study also highlighted staff at after-school clubs (72% increased risk), registered nurses (68% increased risk) , compulsory school teachers (60% increased risk) and preschool caregivers (60% increased risk).
Low risk for individuals
The researchers emphasize that the individual risk of workers in certain professions to be hospitalized with COVID-19 is still very low, because the number of affected people in the occupational group is small.
The results of the research also show that there are certain differences between men and women in several occupations. For example, there is a 53% increase in the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19 among specialist doctors of both sexes and women. However, if the focus is only given to female specialists, the increased risk is much higher, namely 105%.
When looking at certain jobs, interesting gender differences emerge. Among girls, there is an increased risk for medical specialists, nurses, midwives and preschool staff. Jobs for men that have a higher risk are bus and tram drivers and security guards. It also reflects the fact that we have a gender segregated labor market.”
Maria Åberg, Professor of General Medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy, School of Medicine at the University of Gothenburg
Focus on the workplace
Most importantly, the researchers hope the results of this study can open the eyes of entrepreneurs. The results clearly show that there is work-related transmission in several different types of contact professions, not just in the healthcare sector. This report highlights the need for increased risk assessment and preventive action in these sectors.
Kjell Torén, Senior Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg:
“The workplace is also an important arena for informing and implementing vaccination. During our research, we came to the strong conclusion that workplaces or employers need to be involved in providing access to vaccinations for high-risk workers, for example by allowing them to get vaccinated during working hours or by organizing vaccination sessions at their workplaces. And occupational health services have an important role in realizing this,” he said.
Maria Åberg again:
“We know that vaccination protects against severe COVID-19 and we believe that vaccinating at high-risk workplaces during working hours will further reduce those risks. This applies especially to bus and tram drivers and preschool staff. Health workers are usually offered vaccinations during working hours, but perhaps additional measures could increase uptake of vaccinations,” he said.
Published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, this research was carried out in collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet.
The study did not take into account vaccination rates among the cases included in the data set, which the researchers plan to continue in future studies.
Torén, K., (2023). Occupational risks associated with severe COVID-19 disease and SARS-CoV-2 infection – a Swedish national case-control study conducted from October 2020 to December 2021. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.4103.
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