Occupational exposure

‘’I didn’t come to work to die’’

A nurse who contributed to the review

Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers are disproportionately represented in sectors where home working is not possible or in jobs that are low paid and insecure. This means ethnic minorities are more exposed to catching the virus and less able to self-isolate if they do catch it. Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers have suffered disproportionately from the Government’s failure to facilitate Covid-secure workplaces.

The British Medical Association found in April that 64 per cent of Black, Asian and minority ethnic doctors had felt pressured to work in settings with inadequate PPE compared with 33 per cent of their white counterparts.

In the same survey a respondent said:

“I am the only Muslim anaesthetist with a beard in my department…I am being forced to shave my beard due to unavailability of hood masks with respirator, and a bearded doctor can’t pass a fit mask test.”

Similarly, the Royal College of Nursing highlighted in its submission that:

“Seventy per cent of Black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents said that they had felt pressured to care for a patient without adequate protection as outlined in the current PPE guidance, almost double the 45 per cent of white British respondents who had felt this pressure.’’

Alongside inadequate PPE we heard that for many Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers there has been a failure to implement and access risk assessments, insufficient Government guidance for their protection and for groups that have historically faced discrimination or feel like outsiders in UK workplaces [1], it can be particularly hard to raise health and safety concerns. The Seacole Group highlighted the need to equip managers with tactics and tools for how to protect all staff with high risks; to identify and plan for how Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and those with underlying conditions can be redeployed; and to allow higher levels of PPE for staff if they feel they need it. During a roundtable with trade unions as part of this review, we heard several accounts of the lack of protection for at-risk employees:

‘’A survey carried out by the union has shown 80 per cent of members say no one has spoken to them about risk assessment.’’

- Unison

‘’There is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for Black staff. There is not enough guidance and information out there for schools. Many Black staff are also community leaders and have double burden and responsibility.’’


‘’Risk assessments need to be enhanced for Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers and it’s been very difficult to get employers to understand this and approach it in that way.’’

- Unite

The TUC and other unions also raised the over-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers in low-paid and precarious work. These workers were the ones often overlooked in decisions about workplace protection, and many have felt unable to self-isolate due to the risk of financial loss.

These workers may also feel least able to raise concerns in the workplace and throughout this pandemic we have seen some horrifying examples of non-unionised and rogue businesses exposing their workforces to danger against government advice and, at times, the law. For instance, garment factories in Leicester were reportedly forcing people into work, even those with Covid-19, and locking the doors behind them to give the impression of compliance. [2]

Several NHS respondents told us about the importance of Black, Asian and minority ethnic networks in their workplace. Throughout the pandemic these groups have been a valuable means of communicating across the organisation and many expressed the need for them to be given more support from the top of the organisation. Trade unions also told us about the importance of creating a safe space for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff members to express their concerns and advocate for change.


Recommendation 4: Ensure Covid-19 cases from the workplace are properly recorded

Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) employers are legally required to report cases of diseases and deaths caused by occupational exposure.

However, employers have been advised by the Government not to register many occupational cases or deaths during the pandemic because it claims contact with the public is not "sufficient evidence" they could have resulted from the virus. [3]

As well as making it harder to track and tackle the spread of the virus, this will potentially deny workers and their families clarity, closure and justice. It will also undermine the Government's efforts to understand the impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who are among those more likely to be exposed to the virus at work.

The Government should confirm that employers have a duty to report occupational infections of, and deaths from, Covid-19 in line with RIDDOR requirements. It should further take action to increase awareness of these requirements and call on the Health and Safety Executive to take action against employers failing to comply with them.

Recommendation 5: Strengthen Covid-19 risk assessments to ensure consistency and to give workers more confidence

All employers with more than five staff are required to produce written risk assessments and employers with over 50 staff are expected to publish their risk assessments on their own website. However, many employers failed to publish risk assessments on their websites despite having staff working onsite.  

The Government should introduce a legal requirement that employers publish their Covid-19 risk assessments on a central Government portal, giving staff greater confidence in their safety at work.

Recommendation 6: Improve access to PPE in all high-risk workplaces

The Government should advise employers in high-risk settings that they should provide PPE for staff where a risk assessment requires it. The Government should also advise employers that they must provide PPE which is appropriate for all staff, for example for those who wear hijabs, turbans or have beards for religious reasons.

  1. E.g. see GMCFair to Refer report which identifies overseas-qualified doctors, locumsand SAS doctors, all of whom are mainly BAME as being most likely to be‘outsiders’ and lacking support at work and the BMA’s findings from its surveyof disabled doctors and medical students referenced below.

Promoted by David Evans on behalf of the Labour Party, both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT.