Covid-19 cases and fatalities missing from company reports

Just 18 Covid-19 workforce deaths have been disclosed by the UK’s largest public companies in their annual reports, according to research by PIRC.

Covid-19 has been one of the most challenging occupational health risks in a generation. But despite the large and well-publicised figures on occupational cases and deaths in a number of sectors, only a small minority of PLCs have disclosed data.

PIRC’s report, Covid-19 Deaths at Work – Where is the Data? – reviews the disclosure of Covid-19 data by FTSE100 companies in their annual reports. Some of the key findings include:

  • 8 of the 10 largest employers in the FTSE100 did not report any Covid-19 workforce fatalities
  • Only 5 out of 100 companies in the index reported any fatalities
  • Just 18 deaths were disclosed overall, out of a global workforce of 4.5 million

The ten largest FTSE100 employers have over 2 million people in their combined workforce. Those for which PIRC could not locate Covid-19 fatalities disclosures were BT Group, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, Royal Mail, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Unilever, and WPP. A number of these companies employ staff in either public-facing roles or situations of heightened transmission risk. As such, it is fair to deduce that this is an absence of data rather than inexplicably low case and fatality rates.

PIRC’s research did find limited examples of reporting Covid-19 cases. Spirax-Sparco Engineering had an employee case rate of 3.7% in 2020, whilst Antofagasta, BHP, and Polymetal recorded a combined 3,123 cases. However the very large majority of FTSE100 companies disclosed no data.

With over 4.5 million workers employed across the index the low level of reporting is surprising. It also raises questions about the effectiveness of investor engagement on worker safety during the pandemic in the absence of meaningful case data.

Alice Martin, Labour Specialist at PIRC, said: “Official public health data shows thousands of Covid-19 deaths among the working age population in the UK alone. The death rates are higher in certain sectors and job roles, including those in which FTSE100 companies employ people, such as in logistics, food manufacturing, catering and security.

While annual reports provide extensive commentary on how businesses and profits have been affected by Covid-19, they are typically silent on cases, and fatalities, amongst the workforce. We know companies have data, it is deeply regrettable that they have not chosen to tell the story of how their employees have been affected.”

Whilst determining whether Covid-19 cases were contracted in the workplace or somewhere else may be difficult, recording cases should not be as onerous as its absence suggests. PIRC has previously called for companies to disclose overall case numbers, without taking a view on where the contraction occurred, to provide at least some basic comparable data. Engagements with companies have revealed than many have access to such data, making the lack of disclosure even more surprising.

These conspicuous blanks will restrict the ability of investors to prepare for similar challenges in future. Investors have an obstructed overview of the situation within the companies, making it harder to advocate for improvements in an informed way. With the pandemic still causing disruption in much of the world, Covid case data would still prove useful, and the opportunity to improve reporting should not be lost.

In the words of Ms Martin, “Many workers have died during this terrible pandemic, some of them having caught the virus in their workplace. We should not allow their deaths to disappear from the history of Covid because they are unpleasant facts to include in an annual report.”

PIRC Covid-19 deaths at work – where is the data

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