Hearing Loss & Chemicals
OSHA requires employers to provide hearing protection equipment on worksites involving power tools and heavy machinery, for obvious reasons.
However, the administration recently published a bulletin warning that exposure to certain chemicals also leads to hearing loss.
These hearing loss-causing chemicals, known as ototoxicants, damage nerve fibers and tiny hairs within the ear. According to OSHA, they can affect the ear, regardless of noise levels, which leads to both hearing issues and balance problems.
Common products, such as solvents and pesticides, contain ototoxicants.
Industries with a higher risk of exposure to these chemicals include agriculture, mining, and construction – more specifically, metal workers, textile workers, painters, and shipbuilders.
How Ototoxicants Affect Hearing
Oftentimes, workers come into contact with these chemicals through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption.
Ototoxicants then travel through the bloodstream into the inner ear, where they cause damage to parts of the ear and connected neural pathways.
That damage diminishes clarity and volume of sounds, which leads to more severe safety issues, such as missing verbal cues.
A common side effect of ototoxicant hearing loss, speech discrimination dysfunction (SDD), makes it difficult to distinguish voices from background noise.
Examples of SDD include:
- Compressed loudness: sound distortion.
- Frequency resolution: the inability to differentiate two sounds with similar frequency.
- Temporal resolution: the inability to detect time gaps between sounds.
- Spatial resolution: the inability to localize sound.
Reducing Workplace Exposure to Ototoxicants
In order to avoid hearing loss caused by ototoxicants, you should first start with regular audiometric exams.
However, audiometric testing, alone, does not distinguish between hearing damage caused by noise versus chemicals. Thus, it’s important to first determine whether or not your workplace uses substances containing ototoxicants.
OSHA offers great resources to get started: OSHA’s Safety Data Sheets.
While replacing hazardous chemicals with less-toxic alternatives alleviates a lot of these issues, it’s not always possible to do so. If that’s the case for you, engineering controls, such as isolating or enclosing excessive noise and ototoxicants, may reduce the adverse health effects.
Any damage caused by ototoxicants only worsen when coupled with exposure to loud noise.
Make sure to always use hearing protection and noise controls, and to create a solid hearing conservation program.
Mobile Audiometric Exams
Creating a safe, healthy working environment takes time, multiple resources, and coordination.
That’s why we provide a simpler, more convenient way to provide medical surveillance testing, such as audiometric exams.
With mobile medical surveillance testing, you’ll work with us to get testing around your schedule, and on your job site. We coordinate with your team to efficiently testing hearing for up to 20 workers per hour.
And, we safety maintain all of your records, so you’ll be prepared for your next OSHA inspection.
If you’re not 100% satisfied with our work, then we’ll make it right, or you’ll get a full refund. That’s our promise.
And, while you’re at it, check out everything else we can do onsite for you by clicking HERE.