Occupational factors in the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy: compensation claims applications support establishing an occupational surveillance system

Introduction

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is an impacting challenge for occupational health. Epidemiological surveillance of COVID-19 includes systematic tracking and reporting of the total cases and deaths, but suitable experiences of surveillance systems for identifying the occupational risk factors involved in the COVID-19 pandemic are still missing, despite the interest for occupational safety and health.

Methods

A methodological approach has been implemented in Italy to estimate the occupational risk of infection, classifying each economic sector as at low, medium-low, medium-high and high risk, based on three parameters: exposure probability, proximity index and aggregation factor. Furthermore, during the epidemic emergency, the Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority introduced the notation of COVID-19 work-related infection as an occupational injury and collected compensation claims of workers from the entire national territory.

Results

According to compensation claims applications, COVID-19 infection in Italy has been acquired at the workplace in a substantial portion of the total cases (19.4%). The distribution of the economic sectors involved is coherent with the activities classified at risk in the lockdown period. The economic sectors mostly involved were human health and social work activities, but occupational compensation claims also include cases in meat and poultry processing plants workers, store clerks, postal workers, pharmacists and cleaning workers.

Conclusions

There is a need to go towards an occupational surveillance system for COVID-19 cases, including an individual anamnestic analysis of the circumstances in which the infection is acquired, for the prevention of occupational infectious risk, supporting insurance system effectiveness and managing vaccination policies.

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