Occupational Illnesses in Connecticut Decrease

A close-up of a worker holding a yellow hardhat at his side
The rate of occupational illnesses has decreased for Connecticut workers, according to a new report. (Getty Images)

Connecticut workers have seen a drop in occupational illnesses, with an estimated 20,000 cases statewide compared to more than 30,000 the previous year, according to a Labor Day report by UConn Health experts.

The latest available data from 2017 show approximately 7,200 reported illnesses, down from 7,700 in 2016, and an estimate of approximately 13,500 unreported cases. The state’s rate of illness, based on the national Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, is 14% lower than the national average.

The newly published Occupational Disease in Connecticut, 2019 report examined the latest available data (1997-2017) based on reports of individuals filing for workers’ compensation, physician reports to the Occupational Injury and Illness Surveillance System, and the CTDOL/BLS survey of employers. The 7,500 unique cases included approximately 3,000 for musculoskeletal disease (MSD), 2,400 for infectious diseases, 400 for lung ailments, 350 for skin conditions, 100 for hearing loss, and 1,000 other illnesses.

Rates of illness varied widely by municipality. There were 59 towns and cities with at least 25 cases of occupational disease reported to workers’ compensation. For towns with at least 25 cases, Cromwell had the highest rate at 109 cases per 10,000 employees, over 3 times higher than the average rate of 32. Cromwell was followed by Vernon (67 per 10,000), Killingly (66), Stonington (59), Groton (55), New Milford (54), East Haven (54), Stratford (53), South Windsor (50), and Middletown (50).

There were approximately 90,000 Connecticut workers (6% of the workforce) employed in 2015 in 54 high-risk industries, which are considered to have double the national injury and illness rate based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In terms of occupation as opposed to industry,  182,000 Connecticut workers (13.7% of the workforce) are employed in 49 high-risk occupations, as opposed to industries, that have at least double the national average rate of injury and illness.

Based on the reporting’s findings, the highest rates of occupational illnesses were found in the industries of government (79.6 cases per 10,000 workers, or 149% higher than the national rate) and manufacturing (43.3 cases per 10,000 workers, or 35 percent higher than the national average).

“The Workers’ Compensation Commission is encouraged by the decline in the numbers of occupational illnesses as employees and employers continue to focus on prevention,”  Chairman of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission Stephen Morelli said. “Commissioners see the profound effects of occupational illnesses on a daily basis. The Commission tries to reduce these effects by providing prevention services through encouraging active company health and safety committees and providing information on prevention.”

Each year the report is prepared for the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission by occupational and environmental health expert Tim Morse, Ph.D., 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.

“The main reason to track occupational illness is to promote and target effective approaches to reduce them, such as retractable needles in health care, ergonomic programs in government, and safer alternatives to toxic chemicals in manufacturing,” Morse said. “We know these can be effective ways to continue to decrease the rates of occupational illnesses.”

The full Occupational Disease in Connecticut, 2019 report can be viewed online here (PDF).