The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted on the health and wellbeing of populations directly through infection, as well as through serious societal and economic consequences such as unemployment and underemployment. The consequences could be even more severe for those more vulnerable to the disease, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Indeed, there is evidence that such vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected in terms of both, their health and the socioeconomic impact. The aim of our study was to determine whether occupational health (OH) professionals thought that the COVID-19 pandemic might further disadvantage any particular group(s) of vulnerable workers globally, and if so, which group(s). A cross-sectional study was carried out with a sample of OH professionals by means of an online questionnaire which was shared via email within the ICOH (International Commission for Occupational Health) community. Data was collected over a period of two weeks in May 2020 and 165 responses from 52 countries were received. In this paper, the responses relating to questions about vulnerable workers are reported and discussed. Globally, our responders felt that those in less secure jobs (precarious employment (79%) and informal work (69%)), or unemployed (63%), were the most at risk of further disadvantage from this pandemic. The majority felt that their governments could act to mitigate these effects. There were suggestions of short-term alleviation such as financial and social support, as well as calls for fundamental reviews of the underlying inequalities that leave populations so vulnerable to a crisis such as COVID-19.
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; disadvantaged populations; poverty; public health practice; social determination of health; social justice; vulnerable populations; workers.