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August 1982, Vol. 105, No. 8
How valid are estimates
of occupational illness?
Harvey J. Hilaski and Chao Ling Wang
Incidence rates of occupation disease, published each year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, understate the total impact of the work environment on workers' health.1 This is so because the statistics virtually exclude chronic types of illness, as well as illness having a long latent period whose relationship to the job often surfaces only after retirement or death.
Alternative methods of measurement confirm that an undercount exists, but differ concerning its magnitude. This article examines some of the alternative methods of estimating occupational diseases and suggests that a consensus on the adequacy and reliability of the estimates is not likely.
One of the first studies to highlight the scope of occupational disease in this country was a pilot study sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Confined to cross-sectional samples of workers in designated small industries in Oregon and Washington, the study was designed to determine the usefulness of a set of medical procedures for diagnosing occupational disease, and to ascertain how much new data on occupational illnesses would be generated by this method. The results of the study, published in 1975, underscored the issue of a large undercount in current occupational illness statistics, primarily those of BLS.2
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1 Harvey J. Hilaski, "Understanding statistics on occupational illnesses," Monthly Labor Review, March 1981, pp. 25-29.
2 David P. Discher, Goldy D. Kleinman, and F. James Foster, Pilot Study for Development of an Occupational Disease Survellance Method (Washington, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1975).
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