New EPSU report makes the case for COVID as occupational disease

COVID as an occupational disease cover EPSU report September 2021

(22 September 2021) Millions of workers across Europe have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands fatally and many more with serious, debilitating and often long-term effects. This new report focuses on the implications for workers who need time off to recover often over several weeks and the importance of COVID being classified as an occupational disease.

Workers should be able to take time off to recuperate from serious infections like COVID without having to worry about facing financial ruin. However, many – such as those in health and social care – have been left without sufficient support and have had no other option but to come to work to care for children, the elderly, the sick or the dying.

Some countries in Europe have recognised COVID as an oc­cupational disease, but is shouldn’t depend on the country you are working and living in. EPSU and Europe’s unions have called on the European Commission to take action but so far without success.

This report should give new impetus to that discussion, providing an overview of the situation in various countries and what has already been done by some governments. There is no excuse for other governments not to take similar action and to recognise that in many cases it has been their failure, and that of other employers, to implement safety policies and provide the appropriate personal protective equipment that would have reduced workers’ exposure to infection.

Moreover, the data on cases and deaths provide only a partial pic­ture of the impact of Covid. Many people struggle to recover from the acute infection, suffering often disabling symptoms that can last for weeks or even months. These symptoms are known as long Covid.

A quarter of people who have been infected go on to experience symptoms that continue for at least a month, and one in ten are still unwell after 12-weeks. Studies in Austria and France indicate that two-thirds of those hospitalised with Covid-19 experience per­sistent breathing problems weeks after being discharged

An occupational disease is a health condition or disorder caused by the work environment or work-related activities. In many coun­tries, workers are eligible for enhanced social protections and en­titlements including paid medical expenses, long-term care costs, and compensation for lost wages where working conditions lead to illness. However, establishing a causal link between Covid infec­tion and the workplace can be more difficult than other diseases because the virus is also circulating in the community. The burden of proof often falls on the worker, who must show medical evidence linking the infection directly to the workplace.

EPSU argues that where someone’s work activities place them at risk of exposure, which is higher than that for the general population, Covid-19 should be recognised and compensat­ed as an occupational disease.

The report cites a survey from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development showing that Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden are at the forefront of countries taking action on COVID and treating it as an occupational disease. There is no reason why other countries can’t follow in their footsteps and for the EU to underpin this with European action.

EPSU is calling for the:

  • official recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease;
  • government reporting and recording of work-related cases; and
  • the creation of compensation schemes to cover victims of work-related Covid-19 illness, including long Covid, and their families.

For the report

 

New study WHO on Long Covid

The World Health Organisations has published a clinical case definition of long COVID. 6 October 2021. Under this  definition, individuals are classified as having long covid if they have symptoms for at least two months that cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis. “Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others and generally have an impact on everyday functioning. Symptoms may be new onset following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time.”

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the definition would help doctors identify patients and provide them with the necessary care. He encourages national authorities, policy makers and clinicians to adopt this definition. new estimates for the number of people with Long COVID in the U.K. alone jumped to 1.1 million people.