News Release

August 30, 2007

Contact: Carolyn Pennington, 860-679-4864

More Workers Suffering from Occupational Illnesses

Connecticut Ranks 20 Percent Higher than National Average

FARMINGTON, CONN. – The number of occupational illnesses increased in 2005 compared to the previous year with repetitive motion problems being the most common, according to a report prepared for the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission by UConn Health Center occupational and environmental expert Tim Morse, Ph.D. The overall rate of diseases in Connecticut is 20 percent higher than national figures.

“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.”

The occupation disease report for illnesses occurring in 2005 found 4,851 occupationally-related illnesses based on the State Labor Department/Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey. More than half were caused by long-term repetitive motion, such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

BLS found a 36 percent increase in lung diseases such as acute respiratory conditions and asthma. There was also a slight increase (2 percent) in skin disorders caused by such things as poison ivy, chemicals and cleaning products. Lab reporting data filed by physicians to the Connecticut Department of Public Health found a 35 percent increase in elevated blood lead levels in adults.

City and town workers (which include teachers, police, and firefighters) had by far the largest number of illnesses at 894 workers’ compensation reports, which was, however, a 27 percent decrease from 2004. This was primarily from the “Education and Health” sector of government, which had the highest rate of illness (26.9 cases per 10,000 workers) of any sector, followed closely by “Manufacturing” at 26.1.

“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.” Prevention is underscored by reports from physicians, who found that 43 percent of patients were thought to have continuing exposure to the hazard, and also in 43 percent of the cases other workers were likely to be exposed to the same hazard.

“Studies such as this continue to demonstrate by both employers and employees the need to focus more energy today on the causes of occupational diseases in an effort to prevent them from becoming tomorrow’s statistic,” says John Mastropietro, chairman of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission. “It is simply good policy for all involved.”

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 occupation health clinics 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: 2007” report that reflects data for 2005, is available at, or call the Workers’ Compensation Commission at 860-493-1500 or Morse at 860-679-4720.

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