In March, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a new safety and health bulletin in conjunction with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The bulletin, Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Chemical (Ototoxicity) and Noise Exposure, is not a standard or regulation, but it does provide important information for workers and employers to help safeguard people’s hearing.
The bulletin states the following: “Millions of workers are exposed to noise in the workplace every day and when uncontrolled, noise exposure may cause permanent hearing loss. Research demonstrates exposure to certain chemicals, called ototoxicants, may cause hearing loss or balance problems, regardless of noise exposure. Substances including certain pesticides, solvents, and pharmaceuticals that contain ototoxicants can negatively affect how the ear functions, causing hearing loss, and/or affect balance.
The risk of hearing loss is increased when workers are exposed to these chemicals while working around elevated noise levels. This combination often results in hearing loss that can be temporary or permanent, depending on the level of noise, the dose of the chemical, and the duration of the exposure. This hearing impairment affects many occupations and industries, from machinists to firefighters.”
“Recognizing elevated noises and exposure risks to ototoxic chemicals that could occur through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation in the workplace is an important step in preventing hearing loss,” said Jeffrey Miller, CIH® and Chair of ABIH®. “In some instances, there are possible synergistic effects from the combination of noise exposure and exposure to ototoxic chemicals. As NIOSH has reported, prevention is critically important, because occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, and an additional 9 million are exposed to chemicals that can damage hearing or balance functions of the ear. An estimated $242 million is spent annually in the U.S. on worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability, worldwide that figure expands substantially.”
Dedicated to protecting workers’ hearing from hazardous noise exposure and chemicals that can damage the ear are thousands of dedicated professionals known as Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs). CIHs are uniquely qualified to monitor exposures and educate workers. Their knowledge of noise and hearing loss prevention, health risk analysis and hazard communication, work environments and industrial processes, engineering controls and ventilation, air sampling and instrumentational analysis, chemical hazards, and other core competencies inherent in the industrial hygiene profession are instrumental for protecting workers’ hearing.