The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a warning on the Safety and Health Information Bulletin about chemical ototoxicants and their effect on hearing.
According to OSHA, these ototoxic chemicals could cause hearing loss or loss of balance regardless of noise exposure. These substances can be found in certain pesticides, solvents, over the counter drugs and pharmaceuticals. The agency claims that the risk of hearing loss is increased when workers are exposed to these chemicals while working around elevated noise levels.
The combination of the level of the noise, the dose of the chemical, and the duration of the exposure can result in hearing loss that can be temporary or permanent. Although all forms of hearing loss can be devastating, OSHA warns that speech discrimination dysfunction, a type of hearing impairment, is particularly dangerous in the work environment. The affected worker cannot distinguish warning signals or voices from ambient noise and may not be able to react to a dangerous situation quickly.
What are ototoxic chemicals?
The ototoxicants are classified as neurotoxicants, cochleotoxicants, or vestibulotoxicants, which are based on the part of the ear they damage. The ototoxicants can reach the inner ear through the blood stream and can cause injury to inner parts of the ear and the connected neural pathways, which could result in temporary hearing loss or even permanent.
“Neurotoxicants are ototoxic when they damage the nerve fibers that interfere with hearing and balance. Cochleotoxicants mainly affect the cochlear hair cells, which are the sensory receptors, and can impair the ability to hear. Vestibulotoxicants affect the hair cells on the spatial orientation and balance organ.”
What industries are most affected by these chemicals?
There are industries that are more at risk at being exposed to these ototoxic chemicals and include; agriculture, mining, construction and utilities. There are also sub sectors within manufacturing that are at risk as well, which include; metal workers, textile workers, plastic workers, and electrical manufacturing workers.
The growing concern going forward among occupational health and safety professionals that ototoxicant-induced hearing loss may go unrecognized since the measure for hearing loss does not indicate the source of the hearing loss. For example, current audiometric tests are powerful tools that show hearing impairments, but they are not able to differentiate between noise induced hearing loss and ototoxic hearing loss.
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For a full list of the ototoxic chemicals and industries affected please click here.
Some more information about ototoxicity.