Risks of Occupational Hearing LossApril 24, 2018
Every day, millions of workers are exposed to certain ototoxicants, or chemicals that can cause hearing loss if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. These chemicals are used in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and many others. When exposure to these chemicals is combined with elevated noise levels, the risk of occupational hearing loss is even greater.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin, which warns workers about the hazards associated with ototoxicants, and provides recommendations on how to avoid these hazards.
OSHA groups ototoxic chemicals into the following five categories:
- Solvents: This includes carbon disulfide, n-hexane, toluene, p-xylene
- Pharmaceuticals: Analgesics, antibiotics, loop diuretics, certain antipyretics and some antineoplastic agents
- Asphyxiants: Tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and its salts
- Metals and compounds: Mercury compounds, germanium dioxide, organic tin compounds, lead
- Nitriles: These include 3-Butenenitrile, cis-2-pentenenitrile, acrylonitrile
If a worker is exposed to an ototoxicant, either through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption, the effects can range from temporary to permanent. Furthermore, these chemicals can affect hearing sensitivity in several ways. For example, not only do sounds need to be louder in order for the person to hear, but they also lose clarity. As such, understanding voices when there is background noise becomes much more difficult.
Speech discrimination dysfunction, which is the ability to distinguish voices from other noise, may involve the following:
- Compressed loudness: sound distortion
- Frequency resolution: inability to differentiate sounds that have similar frequency
- Temporal resolution: inability to recognize time gaps between sounds
- Spatial resolution: inability to localize sound
If a worker suffers from speech discrimination dysfunction, he or she may not be able to hear another co-worker, or an alarm warning them of a potential hazard, particularly if it is a noisy work environment. If they do not hear the warning, they are much more likely to become injured.
Unfortunately, today’s hearing tests to not distinguish between hearing loss that is caused by noise versus hearing loss caused by ototoxicants.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss from Ototoxicants
- Identify ototoxicants in the workplace. Review the Safety Data Sheets for specific substances and the health hazards associated with them.
- Provide safety information and training programs. All employees who are exposed to ototoxic chemicals, and other hazardous material, must be properly trained, using language they understand.
- Control exposure. Replace hazardous chemicals with ones that are less toxic.
- Utilize engineering controls. If it is not possible to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the workplace, use isolations and enclosures to control exposure. Proper ventilation is highly recommended.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Employees must wear the appropriate clothing and equipment based on the type of chemical they are exposed to.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Occupational Hearing Loss
If you have been exposed to ototoxicants or other elevated noise levels resulting in mild to severe hearing loss, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Your employer is responsible for providing a safe work environment at all times. If there were safety violations that caused you to be exposed to these hazardous chemicals, or to harmful noise levels, we will protect your rights and ensure that you receive the full benefits you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.