UConn health report says Connecticut occupational illnesses above national average

FARMINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) — A new report by UConn health claims Connecticut workers suffer from occupational illness rates higher than the national average.

The report, “Occupational Disease in Connecticut, 2016,” 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 understand patterns and develop approaches to prevent occupational illness. The strength of UConn Health study reporting this information comes from analyzing survey responses and occupational illness reports from three sources: the State Labor Department/Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 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. The report is focused on chronic illnesses; cases of traumatic occupational injury are covered separately by the Connecticut Labor Department in its annual survey.

The state’s overall rate of occupational illness is 18.7 illnesses per 10,000 workers. This rate is 7 percent higher than the national average and based on the standardized survey compiled by the Connecticut Labor Department and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Individuals file workers’ compensation reports and health providers submit reports to the Occupational Injury and Illness Surveillance System. A close look at the 2014 information revealed 8,257 unique occupational illness cases that were reported to at least one of the systems, with over 3,500 musculoskeletal cases, approximately 2,500 infectious disease cases, 650 respiratory cases, almost 400 skin conditions, and over 1,000 “other illnesses” cases. This is an increase over the previous year by more than 7 percent.

Rates of occupational illnesses varied widely across towns and cities in Connecticut. Based on workers’ compensation reports, the highest rates were in Farmington (161 cases per 10,000 workers), Norwich (132), and Groton (119), compared to the state’s median rate of 28. Hartford, Middletown, Southington, New Haven, Stratford, Wallingford and Cheshire were all over 50 cases per 10,000.

High rates in towns often reflect large employers in higher hazard industries, and may also reflect better reporting of cases (including the effect of having local occupational health clinics accurately diagnosing cases) since many cases of occupational illness are not reported. Based on workers’ compensation reports, the highest rates of are found in the Education/Health sector (60 cases per 10,000), Government (55), Manufacturing ((53), and Transportation/Utilities (44).

John A. Mastropietro, chairman of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission encourages employers and employees to utilize the information in this report to help to reduce the number of cases and maintain worker health. “Our workforce is an important asset to Connecticut’s future, and we urge companies to implement actions in their workplaces that serve to prevent injury and illness,” said Mastropietro.

UConn Health’s Morse said: “It is troubling that the rate of work-related illness in Connecticut remains higher than national averages and includes preventable illnesses. Although workers’ compensation reports nominally declined in number, health provider reports increased. This may reflect more cases or providers having more awareness of the work-relatedness to many illnesses.”

Morse stresses: “Adding knowledge of prevention strategies such as ergonomics, the use of safer chemicals, effective infection control, and improvements in indoor office and school environments would well serve to support overall worker health and productivity.”

In addition, the report includes key contact information for agencies and programs in occupational health and safety in Connecticut, a list of useful internet websites, and a map of Connecticut displaying the rates of illness by town. Thirty-three towns and municipalities had at least 50 cases of occupational illnesses based on workers’ compensation reports.

To receive a free copy of the report reflecting data for 2012, 2013 and 2014 visit: here or call the Workers’ Compensation Commission at 860-493-1500, or contact UConn Health’s Paula Schenck at 860-679-2368 or schenck@uchc.edu.