Connecticut’s annual Occupational Disease in Connecticut report revealed that the number of occupational illness cases doubled from 5,259 cases in 2019 to 11,041 in 2020.
The high number of cases in 2020 was largely due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UConn Health’s professor emeritus, Dr. Tim Morse.
“The data underscores the magnitude of the risk of COVID-19 particularly among frontline workers who continued to work with the public and could not work remotely,” Morse said in an email.
Morse said the highest rates of occupational diseases in 2020 were in “nursing homes, hardware stores, hospitals, delivery services, and local government.”
Morse also said there were unreported cases that simply were not covered in the report.
“…There was clearly under-reporting based on the fact that we received a high number of reports from a few workplaces but hardly any from other similar workplaces (such as hardware stores and couriers),” Morse said.
“…There was clearly under-reporting based on the fact that we received a high number of reports from a few workplaces but hardly any from other similar workplaces (such as hardware stores and couriers)”Dr. Tim Morse, UConn Health professor emeritus.
In March 2020, the state legislature launched a relief fund program, the Essential Workers’ COVID-19 Assistance Fund, to compensate essential workers who got COVID for lost wages, medical expenses and burial expenses. The program had $34 million in funds to give to frontline workers.
According to Morse, COVID can affect workplace practices and therefore cause additional health risks, which might have occurred several times in 2020.
“For example, the large number of people who started working from home may have had poor ergonomics, such as sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop all day, which can increase the risk of musculoskeletal conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendonitis, or neck pain,” Morse said.
“Risks could also go down due to workplace changes: for example, people working on their computers at home may get up and down more frequently to do short household tasks (get coffee, answer the phone, etc) which would reduce static sitting,” he added.
In regard to reducing the risk of occupational illnesses, Morse recommended “good ergonomic practices,” which could include using monitors or dropdown keyboards more often.
“Extensive work on laptops creates risks since either your hands are too high and bent or the screen is too low resulting in a bent neck and visual strain,” Morse said. “Using external monitors or dropdown keyboards might be helpful.”