Occupational illnesses within two national data sets

Int J Occup Environ Health. 1998 Apr-Jun;4(2):99-113. doi: 10.1179/oeh.1998.4.2.99.


To describe occupational illness data in two large data sets, two national data sets were aggregated, and the numbers, percentages, and rates of cases of occupational illnesses were determined. Job-related illness data were from Bureau of Labor Statistics documents containing Annual Survey and Census of Fatal Occupational Injury data. A severity index was created to assess the overall burden of a disease. The index multiplies the number of cases times the median days lost. Circulatory disease accounted for 85% of the deaths in the Census and at least 80% in the Annual Survey. More fatal myocardial infarctions occurred on Monday than on any other day. Low-paying occupations had the most myocardial infarctions: operators, laborers, and truck drivers; high-paying occupations had the least: executives, administrators, and managers. Carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss accounted for more morbidity, measured by cases and days lost, than any other illness. Persons at great risk for carpal tunnel syndrome included dental hygienists, butchers, sewing machine operators, and dentists. Mental disorders generated more morbidity than is generally acknowledged. Neurotic reactions to stress were highest in the transportation and public utility industries, as well as in finance, insurance, and real estate. Manufacturing contributed far more cases than any other industry. Industries generating significant asbestos-related deaths included construction and boat building. Ninety-three percent of all illness fatalities were among men. Few African Americans died from coal-workers' pneumoconiosis. Illness cases increased much faster than injury cases in recent years. The two data sets provide insights into the incidences and prevalences of occupational illnesses, but underestimate the burden of job-related illnesses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Accidents, Occupational / mortality
  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Censuses
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality
  • Occupations
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Racial Groups
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology