Most people who develop hearing loss in Reno can blame factors such as aging, noise exposure, disease and trauma. If you work around chemicals, it’s important to understand that certain types of these can also damage your hearing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin in 2018 cautioning that some chemicals can cause hearing and balance problems hear. Known as ototoxicants, they cause problems when they enter the bloodstream of the inner ear, damaging the neural pathways and hair cells of the cochlea. They are frequently found in solvents, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Many are common in everyday households, as well.
OSHA breaks these ototoxicants down into six categories: solvents, pharmaceuticals, nitriles, asphyxiants, compounds and metals. Industries where ototoxicants are prevalent include construction, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, utilities and manufacturing. Workers who handle metal, textile and paint are especially susceptible, as are those who build ships and boats. Speech dysfunction – a specific type of hearing loss that makes it difficult to distinguish voices and warning signals from ambient noise – is a concern for these employees. Add noise to the mix and the risk of developing either temporary or permanent hearing loss and balance problems is even greater.
The extent of the problem is unclear. Hearing tests can’t reliably determine whether a patient’s impairment was caused by noise or chemicals. Making it even more difficult is the fact that many workplaces expose employees to both.
Hearing Safety in the Workplace
Employers in companies where workers come into frequent contact with chemicals should take steps to keep their workers are safe. These include:
- Determining which chemicals in the workplace are potentially hazardous
- Distributing OSHA-produced Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to help employees identify ototoxicants that might be working around
- Providing health and safety training classes for those who work with chemicals and are exposed to loud noise
- Looking for alternative, safer chemicals
- Instituting safety procedures (e.g., enclosures and isolation) to limit employee exposure to chemicals and noise