Hearing loss in Simi Valley is most often associated with noise exposure or natural aging. Other factors can be responsible, too; one of the lesser-known dangers involves chemicals.
Which Chemicals are Harmful to Hearing?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin in 2018 warning that exposure to some chemicals may cause hearing and balance problems. These potentially harmful chemicals are found in products such as solvents, pesticides and pharmaceuticals; substances such as these that can interfere with the ability to hear are classified as ototoxicants.
Harmful ototoxicants are commonly found in industries such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture – but also appear in many people’s homes. When these chemicals enter the bloodstream leading to the inner ear, they can damage the neural pathways, as well as the hair cells of the cochlea. The danger is even greater when loud noise is part of the job site, raising the risk of hearing loss (either temporary or permanent) and balance problems.
OSHA has created six categories for these chemicals: solvents, pharmaceuticals, nitriles, asphyxiants, compounds and metals. The industries where ototoxicants are most commonly found are farming, construction, mining and utilities. In manufacturing plants, factory workers who come into contact with metal, textile and paint are particularly vulnerable. Boat- and ship-builders have higher incidences, as well. Workers in these fields often develop a type of hearing loss known as speech dysfunction, which makes them unable to distinguish warning signals and voices from ambient noise – risky in their line of work.
Because hearing tests can’t accurately distinguish between impairment caused by noise and that which might be the result of chemicals, OSHA is unsure of just how widespread the problem is. Complicating matters is the fact that many workplaces expose employees to both.
Protecting Your Hearing in the Workplace
Employers whose companies handle ototoxicants should take precautions to ensure their workers are safe and to protect their hearing. These steps include:
- Determining which chemicals in the workplace are potential hazards
- Distributing OSHA-produced Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to help identify ototoxicants
- Providing health and safety training classes for employees who work around chemicals and noisy environments
- Seeking out alternative, less dangerous chemicals
- Adopting safety procedures such as enclosures and isolation to reduce exposure to chemicals and noise