Panelists: Occupational Illness Estimates Fall Short

"We see only a small portion of those at the top of the iceberg that are occupational illnesses and diseases," NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said.

ATLANTA -- Many occupational illnesses and occupationally related diseases affecting U.S. workers are not being reported or recorded, panelists in the Sept. 29 Occupational Keynote session at the 2015 National Safety Council Congress & Expo here explained. The panel took place during the lunch hour at the Georgia World Congress Center but drew a sizeable audience, likely because of the panel's star power: The panelists were NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels, AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario, and Dr. Thomas John Bender, M.D., occupational physician and epidemiologist with The Dow Chemical Company.

Howard discussed a study that indicated 10 times more injuries and fatalities are occurring than are reported, and he added, "We only see only a small portion of those at the top of the iceberg that are occupational illnesses and diseases," partly because these illnesses and diseases have a long latency period and often result from multiple causes.

"One of the things we have understood [is that] work-related cancers are preventable, and there are a significant number of them," Howard said. NIOSH has identified about 130 substances that are carcinogenic, but "we have a very incomplete knowledge base in terms of chemicals," he explained, adding that CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System now codes by occupation, which will help to identify work-related illness cases, and NIOSH is partnering with Ohio's workers' comp agency to identify work-related disease patterns.

Seminario cited 2003 and 2011 studies that estimated about 49,000 and 43,000 annual occupational illnesses, respectively, occur in the United States. "The problem of occupational illnesses in this country is massive. The numbers are probably underestimates," she said. "We really don't have a good handle on the problem. Our system is not set up to capture [data on occupational illnesses]."

She said medical costs for treating occupational illnesses are estimated at $21 billion annually, with a 2012 study finding that 50 percent of those costs are borne by the workers themselves.

Download Center

  • Hand Safety Program

    Hand injuries are the #1 preventable industrial accident worldwide. In REThinking Hand Safety, the most comprehensive book on hand safety, you'll learn how top companies have reduced hand injuries by up to 90% and what the most successful hand safety programs have in common. Get your free copy today!

  • Free 1-on-1 Consultations

    Is your company ready to reduce hand injuries? Schedule a free meeting with a Superior Glove hand safety expert and learn how to reduce hand injuries, lower PPE costs, and increase worker productivity. Our 1-on-1 consultations offer personalized advice and recommendations for your specific needs and concerns.

  • Glove 101 Guide

    Choosing the right safety gloves for your workers can be a daunting task. That’s where some basic knowledge of gloves can really come in handy! In this comprehensive guide you’ll find key information you need to know about safety gloves from types of gloves and materials to additives, treatments, safety standards, and more.

  • Sample Program

    Find the right safety gloves for your team and try before you buy—in just 3 easy steps! Simply add the products you want to try to your sample box, complete the sample request form, and wait for your samples to arrive at no cost to you.

  • Water Protection Product Guide

    Find the right safety gloves for your workers that are designed to protect in wet environments. From light and flexible to heavy duty, find the best water-resistant gloves with mechanical protection to safeguard workers.

  • Superior Glove

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - November December 2022

    November December 2022


      The Evolution of Gas Detection
    • OSHA TOP 10
      OSHA's Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for FY 2022
      Enhance Your Fall Protection Program with Technology
      The Future: How Safety WIll Continue to Evolve
    View This Issue