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Incidences of Nonfatal Occupational Illnesses


According to the Department of Laborís Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) in 1997 there were 430,000 nonfatal occupational illnesses recorded. Nonfatal injuries represent over 90 per cent of all recorded incidents. This amounted to 49.8 cases per 10,000 fulltime workers with the highest rates occurring in businesses employing 1000 people or more. The manufacturing industry incurred the highest incidence rate of 60 per cent of the total. 

Repetitive Stress Injuries 

Sixty four per cent (276,600) of all the injuries reported by SOII in 1997 were repetitive injuries such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, between 1976 and 1997 repetitive injuries as a group had the highest increase of all nonfatal injuries. In the year 1997 seventy per cent of the cases in private industry were found in manufacturing. The industries with the highest rates were meat packing plants, motor vehicles and car bodies, and poultry slaughtering and processing. 

Over half of the 18,000 tendonitis cases reported in 1997 that required time off from work were women and the area most affected was the upper extremity. Typically, the tendonitis was brought about by worker motion or position. Most cases were found in manufacturing and service industries especially among operators, fabricators, laborers and among technical, sales and administrative personnel.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) causing missed work accounted for 29,000 nonfatal occupational illnesses in 1997 with women making up 70 per cent of those cases. Over half of these cases required at least 25 days off from work. In 1997 forty-two per cent of the cases occurred in manufacturing and 21 per cent in service industries. Almost all cases involved repetitive motion and occurred in such occupations as operators, fabricators, and laborers. Of the 1,300 CTS cases identified by the California CENSOR program in 1998 in which activity was associated with the injury, 49 per cent of the workers reported using a computer. 

Fifty one per cent of the cases of noise-induced hearing loss reported in the year of 1998 occurred in the manufacturing industry with transportation and auto manufacturing accounting for 60 per cent of the cases. Between 1992 and 1998 there 13,177 cases of noise-induced hearing loss reported. 

Skin Diseases  

Skin diseases or disorders made up about 13 per cent of the illnesses reported in 1997. Manufacturing occupations accounted for about 45 per cent of this group with such diseases as dermatitis and skin cancer. Workers at risk were found in the canned and cured fish and seafood industry. Other industries with high rates included meat packing plants, ball and roller bearings and leather tanning and finishing. 

Respiratory Disorders 

Occupational dust diseases of the lungs accounted for one per cent or 2900 cased of all nonfatal occupational illness in 1997 with manufacturing and service industries making up over half the incidence. Most affected were workers in aluminum sheet, plate and foil manufacturing, anthracite mining and ship builders and repairers. 
Other dust diseases include coal workers Pneumoconiosis which decreased significantly in prevalence among coal workers in the time period between 1970 and 1995. The decrease varied between subgroups but in workers with a 25-year or more tenure the decrease went from a 28 per cent prevalence to less than 10 per cent prevalence. 
From 1993 To 1995 there were 604 cases of silicosis in which the inhalation of silica particles caused a chronic inflammation of the lungs. Seventy-five per cent of cases were found in the manufacturing industries especially in operators, fabricators, and laborers. 
There were 20,300 cases of respiratory disorders from toxic exposure in the work environment in 1997. These disorders included various asthmatic conditions, chronic bronchitis and reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS) which is an asthma-like syndrome. Most of these cases were found in manufacturing and services industries especially in leather tanning and finishing, motorcycles, bicycles, and parts, ammunition, ship building and repairing and musical instrument manufacturing. Toxic agents most frequently associated with occupational asthma are chemicals called isocyanates and other chemicals found in indoor environments. 
Poisonings accounted for 5,100 or one per cent of all occupational illness cases recorded in 1997. Poisons included heavy metals, toxic gases, organic solvents, pesticides and other chemicals. In private industry over half of all cases were found in manufacturing especially in battery and costume jewelry production, smelting and metal refining. Nonfatal occupational pesticide poisonings between 1992 and 1996 associated with lost workdays ranged from 504 to 914 cases annually. The majority of these exposures involved pesticides with organophosphates and insecticide combinations being the most common. Over half the cases were in agriculture. 

Infections of Health Care Workers 

Health care workers make up about eight per cent of the workforce. This group constitutes about 10 million workers in the United States and many are continually exposed to infectious agents and toxins in the form of cut or puncture injuries to the skin. Among one study of 60 hospitals in which there were 6,983 cases of body fluid exposure 43 per cent occurred in nurses and 29 per cent in physicians. Most cases were in the hospital setting and involved a cut or puncture to the skin. There was a 93 per cent drop in hepatitis B viral infections in health care workers from 1985 to 1995 from about 12,000 cases in 1985 to 800 cases in 1995.
The occupational exposure to health care workers to Hepatitis C is unknown but the prevalence is roughly one to two per cent of the general population. Among health care workers physicians made up about 42 per cent of those exposed and nurses made up about 37 per cent. Up to June of 1999 there were as much as 191 occupational HIV transmissions among health care workers with nurses making up 42 per cent and laborers accounting for 35 per cent of the group. From 1994 to 1998, 2,732 cases of tuberculosis (TB) among health care workers were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This represents about three per cent of all TB cases. The incidence rate went from 5.4 cases per 100,000 workers in 1994 to 4.6 cased per 100,000 workers in 1998.  
Exposure to physical agents involved 16,600 cases in 1997 or four per cent of nonfatal occupational illnesses. These agents include heat or sunstroke, heat exhaustion, freezing and frost bite and the effects from ionizing and non ionizing radiation. Manufacturing accounted for over half the incidence of disorders and was especially prevalent in metal sanitary ware, primary aluminum, shipbuilding, repairing and plumbing and heating. 

Anxiety, Stress and Neurotic Disorders 

In 1997 up to 5,300 cases of anxiety, stress, or neurotic disorders requiring time away from work were reported. This group represents one per cent of all reported nonfatal occupational illness. Sixty per cent of this group were women. Services, wholesale and retail trade and manufacturing composed the largest division of this group. The specific occupations most commonly affected were in technology, sales and administrative personnel. 

1) Worker Health Chartbook, 2000


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