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Ototoxicity – Hearing loss in the workplace

On Behalf of | Oct 10, 2019 | Workers' Compensation

Many people are shocked to learn that hearing loss can often be traced to a dangerous work environment. Further, these individuals might automatically assume that the damage was caused by a loud environment such as those including heavy construction equipment or industrial machinery. Unfortunately, there are a host of chemicals that exposure to might result in complete hearing loss or a noticeable reduction in hearing capacity.

Consistently focused on making employers aware of a variety of workplace hazards, OSHA recently released a Safety and Health Information Bulletin focused specifically on chemical exposure. Damage to hearing due to chemical exposure is referred to as ototoxicity with the chemicals themselves being referred to as ototoxicants. Based on numerous factors such as the duration of exposure, the combination of environmental chemicals and the presence of an excessive noise level, workers can suffer a range of hearing damage including permanent hearing loss.

OSHA notes numerous industries such as manufacturing, mining and construction that can directly put workers in harm’s way. However, there are numerous subsectors of these industries, including:

  • Fabricated metal
  • Machinery
  • Petroleum
  • Paper
  • Chemical
  • Paint
  • Plastics
  • Furniture

Additionally, the ototoxicants can appear in substances including pharmaceuticals, solvents, asphyxiants and nitriles.

Frightening for most workers is the fact that harmful exposure isn’t limited to direct skin contact. Ototoxicants can also be either ingested or inhaled. An exposed worker can experience a broad array of devasting impacts including a loss of hearing clarity, a reduction in hearing sensitivity or the inability to distinguish voices from background noise. Effects can be temporary or permanent.

Can workers protect themselves?

While industries must take steps to educate and protect their employees, the workers must also be aware of the dangers they face. Questionable materials should be researched by reviewing the information found in Safety Data Sheets (SDS). If an identified material cannot be replaced, the company must provide safety information to any employee who might be exposed to the toxic chemical.

Hearing loss can be a frightening, life-changing condition. If you have suffered a diminishment of hearing capacity due to exposure to a hazardous workplace chemical, it is crucial that you discuss your situation with a skilled workers’ compensation attorney.