What are the riskiest jobs amid COVID-19? New online tool measures B.C. job sector risk, reward

Economists at the University of British Columbia have created an online tool to assess the risks and benefits of reopening various sectors of the economy during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Vancouver School of Economics’ COVID-19 Risk Reward Assessment Tool aims to measure the benefits of reopening relative to the risk of transmission across more than 100 industries.

Job risk is measured on factors such as physical proximity of employees, number of face-to-face contacts, whether work is done indoors or outside, employees’ use of public transit to work and demographic trends.

The benefits of reopening an industry are measured by employment numbers, economic value and its value to the supply chain, industry’s employment numbers, economic value and supply chain centrality, which can impact other sectors.

Among the riskiest occupations are dentists, dental hygienists, physiotherapists, doctors, and nurses, researchers found.

Jobs with moderate risk include construction workers, couriers and sheet-metal workers. The lowest-risk occupations include software engineers, graphic designers, and logging machinery operators.

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UBC economist Henry Siu, who was part of the research team that built the tool, said he hopes it will be used by federal and provincial governments.

Siu says the tool can help identify high-risk jobs within a given industry that may need special attention.

Sometimes the riskiest jobs in a sector aren’t always obvious, according to Siu. The riskiest jobs in restaurants, for instance, aren’t waiters or kitchen staff, but floor supervisors or floor managers.

“They are the touchpoint of the entire operation in a restaurant. They are the ones who are going to be right in there when a problem comes up between the kitchen and the waitstaff,” he said.

“They’re going to be in close proximity with their co-workers. When there’s an issue that comes up with the customer it’s typically the manager, the floor manager, who’s going to be the liaison between the waitstaff and the customer.

“So it turns out this occupation, which you might not necessarily think of at first, is the riskiest one.”

Siu said their models align with British Columbia’s phased approached to reopening the economy.

“The multi-stage approach is the correct approach,” he said.

“When you’re doing this in stages, you want to hit as best as you can. The low-risk, high-reward sectors first and then move towards the high-risk, low-reward sectors. And so this is a tool that we believe will help government officials identify those needs more easily and in an evidence-based way.”

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