OSHA, in partnership with NIOSH, recently released a new Safety and Health Information Bulletin, Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Chemical (Ototoxicity) and Noise Exposure, which warns of ototoxicity, a potentially serious workplace hazard.
According to the report, exposure to chemicals, including certain pesticides, solvents, and pharmaceuticals, can negatively affect how the ear functions, causing chemically induced hearing loss and/or affect balance. This type of hazard can affect employees working across many industries, such as manufacturing, mining, utilities, construction, and agriculture.
Research has also shown that the risk of hearing loss is increased when employees are exposed to these types of chemicals while working around elevated noise levels. Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent and is dependent on the level of noise, the dose of the chemical, and the duration of the exposure.
OSHA’s bulletin provides recommendations to employers and safety professionals about identifying ototoxicants in the workplace and how to establish hearing conservation programs if chemicals cannot be replaced.
According to OSHA and NIOSH, industrial hygienists, occupational health professionals, and safety managers should:
- Review Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for chemicals that have been identified as neurotoxicants, as these are the most likely to have ototoxic health hazards associated with them.
- Provide training to workers exposed to hazardous chemicals, including ototoxic chemicals
- Control exposure by replacing ototoxicant chemicals with less toxic chemicals. If this is not possible in your workplace, use engineering controls such as isolation and enclosures and ventilation.
- Determine appropriate PPE and provide it to employees, such as chemical-protective gloves, arm sleeves, and aprons to reduce dermal exposure.