Background: Concern remains about how occupational SARS-CoV-2 risk has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed to ascertain occupations with the greatest risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and explore how relative differences varied over the pandemic. Methods: Analysis of cohort data from the UK Office of National Statistics COVID-19 Infection Survey from April 2020 to November 2021. This survey is designed to be representative of the UK population and uses regular PCR testing. Cox and multilevel logistic regression were used to compare SARS-CoV-2 infection between occupational/sector groups, overall and by four time periods with interactions, adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation, region, household size, urban/rural neighbourhood and current health conditions. Results: Based on 3 910 311 observations (visits) from 312 304 working age adults, elevated risks of infection can be seen overall for social care (HR 1.14; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.24), education (HR 1.31; 95% CI 1.23 to 1.39), bus and coach drivers (1.43; 95% CI 1.03 to 1.97) and police and protective services (HR 1.45; 95% CI 1.29 to 1.62) when compared with non-essential workers. By time period, relative differences were more pronounced early in the pandemic. For healthcare elevated odds in the early waves switched to a reduction in the later stages. Education saw raises after the initial lockdown and this has persisted. Adjustment for covariates made very little difference to effect estimates. Conclusions: Elevated risks among healthcare workers have diminished over time but education workers have had persistently higher risks. Long-term mitigation measures in certain workplaces may be warranted.


© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/'>http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/'>http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

Cite as

Rhodes, S., Wilkinson, J., Pearce, N., Mueller, W., Cherrie, M., Stocking, K., Gittins, M., Katikireddi, S. & Tongeren, M. 2022, 'Occupational differences in SARS-CoV-2 infection: analysis of the UK ONS COVID-19 infection survey', Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech-2022-219101

Downloadable citations

Download HTML citationHTML Download BIB citationBIB Download RIS citationRIS
Last updated: 28 July 2022
Was this page helpful?