- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

FARMINGTON, Conn. (AP) - Occupational illness rates are higher for Connecticut workers than the national average, though the rate has declined, a study by a University of Connecticut health expert says.

The overall illness rate in 2012 was 21.9 cases per 10,000 workers, a 22 percent decrease from the previous year, according to the study by Timothy Morse, a professor emeritus in community medicine. Connecticut’s rate was 8 percent higher than the average national rate.

“You’re still seeing very high rates for heart attacks, carpal tunnel, highly debilitating (illnesses), lung diseases, asbestos exposure,” Morse said.

He credited lower occupational illness rates to a ban on lead paint and improved office work stations that reduce stress on backs and joints.

The most common specific diagnoses by doctors for musculoskeletal disorders were tennis elbow, with 22 percent of the cases and carpal tunnel syndrome, at 14 percent. The most common specific causes for musculoskeletal disorders among workers compensation reports were lifting, pushing or pulling and use of tools such as those that vibrate.

Morse said it’s difficult to pinpoint why Connecticut is above the national average in the occupational illness rate. It could be because the state is “more diligent” in diagnosing and reporting cases or there’s a higher concentration of hazardous industries, higher productivity or longer work hours, he said.

Though occupational illnesses declined in 2012, thousands of cases of often serious conditions persist every year, “with many cases not even being reported,” Morse said.

The study found 33 Connecticut towns and municipalities with at least 50 cases of occupational illnesses. The highest rate was in Farmington at 15.3 cases per 1,000 workers followed by Groton at 10.6, Middletown at 8.6, Hartford and New Haven each at 6.8 and Bloomfield at 6.6. The state average is 3.7.