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Leep, Tescher, Helfman and Zanze

Was your hearing damaged by chemicals in the workplace?

Workers might not realize there is a class of chemicals that can cause serious, irreparable damage to the hearing and inner ear function. Ototoxicants are chemicals that can cause hearing loss and balance issues. They can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed directly through the skin.

OSHA has issued an alert and continues to update it. They have grouped the otoxicants into five general categories:

  • Pharmaceuticals, including analgesics and antibiotics
  • Solvents, including carbon disulfide, styrene and trichloroethylene
  • Asphyxiants, including tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide
  • Nitriles, including acrylonitrile
  • Metals and compounds, including mercury compounds, germanium dioxide and lead

The administration has also identified numerous industries with higher exposure risk. These industries can include agriculture, construction, mining and utilities.

Speech discrimination dysfunction

Hearing loss and loss of balance can be dramatic, noticeable symptoms of ototoxicity, but OSHA warns there might be other symptoms which can lead to trouble further down the line. Speech discrimination dysfunction, for example, is a troubling symptom because an affected worker might not be able to distinguish a co-worker’s voice from warning sirens in the ambient environment. Various sounds can blend together and overlap preventing the worker from identifying warnings signals in the workplace. Workers can experience compressed loudness, frequency resolution problems, temporal resolution problems and spatial resolution problems.

While people might equate workers’ compensation with on-the-job injuries, there are more scenarios that can cause lasting damage. Only recently are the dangers of toxic exposure becoming fully realized. Unfortunately, as more chemicals are being researched, more hazards are being uncovered. It is crucial to stay safe at work, wear the necessary protective gear, and familiarize yourself with OSHA regulations.