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How exposed are engineers to infectious diseases?

Image credit: Dreamstime, E&T

Data suggests there is a lower risk of engineering roles being exposed to disease and infections, but outliers do exist.

When it comes to being exposed to disease and infections, being a nurse or a GP, for example, will put you at greater risk than those in an engineering role. This sounds accurate, especially during a global health pandemic, but E&T scrutinised various occupations in the engineering and technology sector to discover how exposed workers are to the risk to contracting and spreading an infectious virus.

Through data provider O*NET (the Occupational Information Network, developed under sponsorship of the US Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration), a national primary source of occupational information in the US, E&T screened nearly 1,000 professions from decorators to nuclear equipment operation technicians.

For the 65 engineering occupations listed, workers have on average a 69 per cent lower score on the scale of being exposed to disease or infections.

However, in times when a global pandemic finds its way into global supply chains, it is hard to predict which engineering companies will have it easier.

Thanks to heavy isolation and social distancing, some countries are beginning to see progress. China, where engineering sectors such as mining, manufacturing, construction and power make up almost two-fifths of the GDP, remains largely sealed off but the country has just reported no new cases of local transmission. 

The O*NET data is not specific to the Covid-19 virus, but it does provide some useful indication of risk level in engineering jobs as well as comparing how they fare against other professions. 

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Image credit: E&T, O*NET

A number of engineering workers were found to be at the lower end of the risk spectrum, including fuel cell engineers, computer hardware engineers, software quality-assurance engineers and testers, aerospace engineers, automotive engineers, industrial engineering technicians, robotics engineers and mechanical engineering technologists. 

O*NET classified biomedical engineers, airline pilots and co-pilots, flight engineers and boiler operators to be at the more risky end. With an average of 6.7 on the scale, overall engineering roles ranked low.

How closely do engineers work?

Interactions with fellow staff members can contribute to transmitting a contagious virus. O*NET detailed how often workers come into personal contact with others.

Unsurprisingly, healthcare workers top the list as they regularly come into close personal contact with patients. At the bottom are some science professions including political scientists, astronomers and computer and information research scientists.

With an average score of 51 in ‘physical proximity in the work context’, engineers work ‘moderately close, or at arm's length' from one another. When compared with other professions, engineering roles have a slight advantage as on average they physically work 16 per cent less close to fellow engineers.

 

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Image credit: E&T, O*NET

Petroleum engineers have the most space to play with, the data suggests, while engineering roles in airports or on planes or ships, as well as sound engineer technicians, are more likely to work physically closer together. 

While O*NET's data is not specific to the coronavirus, the findings may hold lessons for engineering and technology companies while supporting and instructing workers in this time of crisis. 

How prepared are we to work from home?

E&T's analysis also looked at how prepared engineering professions are to cater for considerable change in the workplace, including changes to work environments and the sudden need to work from home. 

 

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Image credit: E&T, O*NET

O*NET's data on 'contact with others' reveals how much roles depend on workers communicating with others, whether it be through face-to-face meetings, telephone calls, or other means of contact. The higher this dependency reflects in the difficulty in switching to new, virtual communication methods. 

With an average score of 80, non-physical contact among engineers sits somewhere between 'contact with others most of the time' and 'constant contact with others'. However, this is 4 per cent lower than the average score of other professions, giving engineers a small advantage.

It was found that airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers have the most contact with others, while computer hardware engineers have the least. 

Elsewhere, the Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Build UK, the Chartered Institute of Building, CITB, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, the Construction Plant-Hire Association, the Construction Products Association, the Federation of Master Builders and the Institution of Civil Engineers announced they will collaborate and work together to provide guidance on Covid-19.

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