The Covid-19 pandemic could accelerate job losses due to automation, a new study from Statistics Canada says.

Before the pandemic, an estimated 10.6% of Canadian workers were deemed to be at “high risk” of having their job affected by automation, and another 29.1% were at “moderate risk.”

StatsCan said the pandemic has added to these concerns, as more businesses may be prompted to explore automation.

“The closure of workplaces and the susceptibility of workers to the virus may incentivize businesses to test whether new technologies can perform a broader range of work activities,” it said.

The pandemic has affected a wide range of industries, including those not traditionally considered ripe for automation.

The study noted that the threat of a second wave of Covid-19, or future pandemics, “may expedite investments in new technology in an effort to reduce risks.”

As a result, “the consequences could be felt by a broad range of workers, and at a faster pace than previously expected,” the study said.

StatsCan research indicated that, before the pandemic, jobs at higher risk from automation were associated with older workers with lower income, education, literacy or numeracy.

For instance, the study found that more than one-quarter (26.8%) of workers in the bottom 10% of the income distribution are at high risk from automation, compared with just 2.1% of workers in the top 10% of income.

Occupations at high risk include workers in office support roles, where the study said that 35.7% were at a high risk.

Conversely, certain professional occupations, including financial and business services, had almost no workers at high risk, the study concluded.

The paper indicated that its risk estimates are largely based on the “technological feasibility of automating job tasks,” but that this doesn’t necessarily equate to employers replacing human workers with robots.

“A high risk of automation does not necessarily imply a high risk of job loss,” it said, as other factors can weigh against automation-driven job losses.

“That being said, these results were estimated prior to Covid-19, which may accelerate automation in the workplace in some instances,” it said.