UConn Report Finds Decrease in Occupational Diseases

HR & Safety

The coronavirus pandemic had a widespread impact on occupational illnesses in 2021, according to a new report released by UConn Health. 

The state Workers’ Compensation Commission commissioned the Occupational Diseases in Connecticut report.

Released this month, the report specifically focuses on occupational disease incidents for 2021 and recent trends in reported cases, rather than traumatic occupational injuries.

For many occupational diseases, case counts are down.

Disease Specific Findings  

While still high, the number of COVID-19 reports across various surveillance platforms declined substantially from 2020 to 2021. 

More than half of COVID-19 cases were in the education and health sectors (51%), with 16% in local government and 10% in wholesale and retail trade.

Nursing and residential care facilities saw the most coronavirus cases within the sector. 

“While COVID-19 reports decreased in 2021 after the introduction of vaccines, they continued to affect thousands of Connecticut workers, particularly healthcare workers,” UConn School of Medicine professor emeritus Tim Morse said. 

“While COVID-19 reports decreased in 2021 after the introduction of vaccines, they continued to affect thousands of Connecticut workers, particularly health care workers.”

UConn’s Tim Morse

“The pandemic also greatly impacted work practices including working from home, use of respirators and increased ventilation and filtering, and employment patterns, which likely impacted other illnesses such as musculoskeletal and skin conditions.”

Those occupational diseases and others decreased in 2021 from previous years. 

Specifically, workers’ compensation reports dropped by 59% for lung disorders, 46% for non-COVID infectious diseases, 34% for skin disorders, 21% for musculoskeletal disorders, and 10% for other occupational illnesses.

Illness Rates

The report also highlighted the illness rates in Connecticut based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. 

There was an overall illness rate of 42.4 cases per 10,000 workers in Connecticut in 2021. The national average rate was 43.7. 

Connecticut saw the 16th highest illness rate of the 41 states that report data. 

Based on workers’ compensation data, the rate of illness in 2021 was 35.3 cases per 10,000 workers, 51% lower than the 71.4 cases per 10,000 in 2020. 

The government, manufacturing, education and health, and trade sectors all experienced illness rates above the average rate.

Those specific industries largely reflect the presence of COVID-19, according to the report. 

“We are always trying to reduce the economic and human costs of occupational illness,” Workers’ Compensation Commission chair Stephen Morelli said. 

“While it is good that rates appear to be declining, we still are having as many as 40,000 cases of occupational illnesses a year.”

Reducing Risk 

There are several effective ways to reduce the risk of occupational illnesses both from an infectious disease standpoint, as well as other illnesses that may have been indirectly affected by the pandemic. 

Researchers said CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guidelines are a great start, specifically for monitoring and testing, increased ventilation, and air filtering. 

Remote work and social distancing during periods when infection rates are high have also proven to be successful ways to mitigate the spread of disease. 

The report said workplaces can reduce risk from increased use of sanitizers by using safer substitutes for cleaning chemicals, such as microfiber cloths or vinegar water, which may reduce the risk of lung conditions such as occupational asthma.

Workplaces can reduce risk from increased use of sanitizers by using safer substitutes for cleaning chemicals.

At the same time it is important to be aware of the soaps and sanitizers available to people. While handwashing is important, milder soaps and sanitizers can reduce skin conditions. 

Finally, researchers suggest ergonomic evaluations can prevent musculoskeletal disorders.

The use of an ergonomic chair and use of headphones or speaker phones during conference calls can reduce neck and shoulder discomfort. 

In addition, using a larger and higher monitor can reduce eye fatigue and neck discomfort, and a drop-down keyboard tray can reduce the risk of tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.


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