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Health Center Today, October 27, 2009

Health Center Researchers Find Occupational Illnesses in Connecticut Remain Stable but Still Higher than National Average

Repetitive Motion Injury Continues as the Most Common Complaint

By Carolyn Pennington

Nearly 4,000 Connecticut workers reported an on-the-job related illness in 2007, about the same as the year before, according to a State Labor Department/Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. According to the Occupational Disease Report prepared for the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission by occupational and environmental experts Tim Morse and Paula Schenk of the University of Connecticut Health Center, the overall illness rate in Connecticut of 29.2 per 10,000 workers was only 3 percent higher than the previous year. Although this reflected a small decline in the rate of illness in private sector workplaces, the 2007 private sector illness rate in Connecticut of 26.5 per 10,000 workers was higher than the national average of 21.8. (Information on government workplace illness was not available on a nationwide basis for comparison). This was driven by Connecticut’s higher rates of hearing loss, respiratory conditions and repetitive trauma injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. Connecticut scored lower than the national average for poisonings and skin disorders.

"Tracking occupational diseases is the best way to help identify problems that are preventable," says Morse. "But they are typically harder to detect than injuries since they often occur over longer periods of time and can have multiple (including non-occupational) risks. It is extremely important for these diseases to be reported so we can understand what’s happening in the workplace and begin to fix it."

Local government workers (59.8 per 10,000 workers) and manufacturing workers (54.3 per 10,000 workers) accounted for the highest rates of occupational illness in Connecticut. Education and health professionals, along with state government employees, also had higher rates than the state average.

Lost-time musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), which includes strains and sprains, stayed about the same as the year before, but the Connecticut rate of 52 per 10,000 workers is 47 percent higher than the national MSD rate of 35.4.

"Occupational disease can have major impacts on worker health, ability to work, and employer costs," explains Morse. "Some diseases, such as cancers from asbestos exposure, can be fatal. Other diseases, such as carpal tunnel syndrome from ergonomic problems, can result in high levels of disability. Prevention efforts can reduce both diseases and costs because, in theory at least, all occupational diseases are preventable."

The report is part of the Occupational Disease Surveillance System, a cooperative effort between the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the Connecticut Labor Department, the academic occupational health programs at the University of Connecticut Health Center and Yale University, and other state occupational health clinics. The system is designed to trace and prevent occupational disease. The report includes a "Who’s Who" of contact information for agencies and programs in occupational health and safety in Connecticut, as well as a list of the most useful websites nationally.

A free copy of the "Occupational Disease in Connecticut: 2009" report that reflects data for 2007, is available at, or call the Workers’ Compensation Commission at 860-493-1500 or Morse at 860-679-4720.