The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a special bulletin warning employers and workers of potential hearing injuries related to exposure to ototoxicants, which are chemicals used in pesticides, solvents, metals, and pharmaceuticals. Individuals exposed to the chemicals can suffer temporary and sometimes permanent hearing loss, especially when their exposure is combined with loud working environments.
Exposure to ototoxicants can come from inhalation, absorption through the skin, and ingestion. Hearing loss occurs when the chemicals disrupt the central nervous system, causing messages to the brain to become slowed or distorted. Victims of ototoxicant exposure can experience hearing loss or speech discrimination dysfunction when the auditory nerves are damaged. This type of hearing loss causes sound distortion, the loss of the ability to differentiate speech, and the inability to distinguish where sounds are located.
Hearing injuries can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life and increase the likelihood of occupational accidents and injuries. Workers with hearing loss may not be able to hear or differentiate alarms, buzzers, mechanical sounds, or warning signals. Speech discrimination dysfunction makes it difficult to distinguish speech from background noise and causes misinterpretation of language. Workers with hearing injuries are at a higher risk for workplace accidents that can endanger the safety of themselves and their coworkers.
Auditory nerve damage can also cause tinnitus, which is a constant ringing in the ears. Many people who suffer from tinnitus are unaware of the constant ringing in their ears when there is background noise, but become highly aware in quiet environments, which can disrupt sleep and concentration. Workers who suffer from sleep deprivation are more prone to workplace accidents that result in serious and sometimes fatal injuries.
All employers have a legal responsibility to provide their workers with a safe environment that is free from unnecessary risks. Industries that use ototoxicant chemicals must properly inform and train their employees on the presence and potential risks involved with exposure to these toxins. Safety protocols and procedures are supposed to be in place to limit exposure to these chemicals. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, masks, eye protection, earplugs or earmuffs, and chemical resistant overalls, should be mandatorily provided to workers exposed to ototoxicants and high noise levels.
OSHA also suggests that regular audiometric testing be conducted to determine the level of noise in the workplace. Periodic hearing tests should be given to workers in industrial work environments to determine if a hearing injury or hearing loss has occurred. Employers should also consider replacing ototoxicants with less harmful chemicals. Isolating areas where ototoxicants are present and ensuring good ventilation in the area is considered best practice for employers that handle these chemicals.
If you have suffered a hearing injury due to chemical exposure or a loud work environment, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the Columbia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. at 800-531-9780 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.
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