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Paula Schenck on WTIC NewsTalk 1080


As reported by The Hartford Courant, October 12, 2010.

Workplace Illness in Connecticut Drops; Rate Still Higher Than National Average

Connecticut Has One of the Oldest Workforces in the Nation

By William Weir

The rate of workplace illness has declined in the state, but Connecticut workers report more on-the-job illnesses than the national average.

According to "Occupational Disease in Connecticut: 2010,'' a report issued to the state Workers' Compensation Commission, on-the-job illness in 2008 (the most recent data available) dropped by 10 percent from the previous year and by 26 percent from 2005. But the state's per-capita rate of workplace illness is 12 percent higher than the national average, according to the state Department of Labor.

Musculoskeletal disorders carpal tunnel syndrome, in particular were overwhelmingly the most common occupational illnesses. The report does not include traumatic occupational injuries.

The report, released late last month, was prepared by Tim Morse and Paula Schenck, who are occupational and environmental experts at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

Of the 6,237 occupational illnesses reported to the state Workers' Compensation Commission, more than half were musculoskeletal disorders led by carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

Of the musculoskeletal disorders, injuries caused by repetitive activities, such as typing, made up 30 percent. The second-most-common cause was lifting, which accounted for 14 percent of the cases. Further down the chart were activities such as cake decorating (18 cases), throwing (12 cases) and working at a cash register (eight cases).

Martin Cherniack, director of UConn's Ergonomic Technology Center, said that state employers had become more knowledgeable in the past decade or so about workplace risks that can cause musculoskeletal disorders.

"Generally, our sense is that the awareness in Connecticut is good and getting better," he said. "On the other hand, what employers are experiencing is that there are still some problems with an older workforce."

Cherniack noted that Connecticut has one of the oldest workforces in the nation. The number of people between 65 and 74 living in Connecticut is only slightly higher than the national average. But Cherniack said that 28 percent of that demographic group is working, compared with the national average of 20 percent.

After musculoskeletal disorders, the most common workplace ailments were infectious diseases; 943 cases were reported in 2008.

Schenck said that plenty of research shows the correlation between moisture in buildings and respiratory diseases, but some workplaces have been slow to catch on.

"I think as the studies are increasing and are showing how it affects productivity, they are paying more attention, so I think it's getting better," she said.

Lung and respiratory problems (587 cases) and skin conditions (275 cases) were the third- and fourth-most-common cases listed by the Workers' Compensation Commission.