A new state report conducted by UConn Health experts shows that occupational illnesses in Connecticut are down about 9 percent based on data from 2013-15, but remain 5 percent above the national rate. The report is released each year just before Labor Day.
The new “Occupational Disease in Connecticut, 2017” report examined the latest available data stemming from the submitted reports of individuals filing for workers’ compensation and health providers to the Occupational Injury and Illness Surveillance System.
Information reflects a reporting rate of about 18 cases per 10,000 workers in Connecticut, while the national rate is 17 cases.
The data included reports of 7,525 unique occupational illness cases, composed of 3,403 musculoskeletal, 2,262 infectious disease, 511 respiratory, 310 skin, and 1,039 cases of other illnesses.
The largest category of illnesses involved musculoskeletal conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and chronic strains and sprains, and these were more prevalent in government, trade, and manufacturing industries. While pushing and pulling, lifting, and tools and vibration lead the causes of musculoskeletal disease, this category also includes computer-related work conditions in this digital-driven society – and points to the need for ergonomic guidance for employees and steps to reduce risk, such as computer, keyboard and chair alignment, or even standing desks.
Rates of occupational illnesses varied widely across towns and cities in Connecticut. Based on workers’ compensation reports of towns with at least 50 cases, the highest rates were in Cromwell (70.2 cases per 10,000 workers), Farmington (54.6), Vernon (53.2), Middletown (49.8), Cheshire (44.9), South Windsor (44.7), Groton (44.5), Stratford (44.0), New London (40.2), and Berlin (39.8). These higher town rates often reflect the locations of large employers in higher hazard industries, and may also reflect better reporting of cases, as many cases of occupational illness are not reported. Based on workers’ compensation reports, the highest rates of occupational illnesses were found in the industries of state government (102.2), local government (77.0), transportation equipment manufacturing (57.5), and retail stores (52.9).
Each year the Occupational Disease in Connecticut report is prepared for the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission by occupational and environmental health expert Tim Morse, professor emeritus at UConn Health. The report is part of the Occupational Injury and Illness Surveillance System, a cooperative effort of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and the Connecticut Labor Department. The system is designed to track occurrences of work-related disease, with an eye to understanding patterns and developing approaches to prevent occupational illness.
“We are encouraged that rates of reported occupational illness are declining and that preventive efforts by employers and health and safety committees appear to be helpful,” said John Mastropietro, chairman of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission, which encourages employers and employees to use the report’s findings to further reduce the number of cases. “Workers can only be productive when they are healthy, and prevention also reduces the often dramatic effects of illness on workers and families.”
“The greater use of primary preventive strategies such as ergonomics, the use of safer chemicals, more effective infection control, and improvements in indoor office and school environments can be applied more and more effectively to further reduce occupational illnesses and risk,” said Morse, the UConn Health study’s author. “Also, as Connecticut’s workforce and industry patterns change we can expect a potential shift in illness patterns over time, such as fewer musculoskeletal conditions with fewer workers in manufacturing.”
UConn Health researchers analyze survey responses and occupational illness reports from the State Labor Department/Bureau of Labor Statistics survey; the first reports of injury to the Connecticut Workers Compensation Commission; and health provider reports to the Connecticut departments of Labor and Public Health under the Occupational Illnesses and Injury Surveillance System.
In addition, the report includes contact information for agencies and programs in occupational health and safety across Connecticut, and a list of useful resources.