Noise exposure at work is a significant health hazard that can lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Did you know that some chemicals in the workplace can also cause hearing loss? These are known as ‘ototoxic’ chemicals (oto meaning ear).
These are chemicals that can damage the cochlea in the inner ear and/or the auditory neurological pathways leading to hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo. Hearing damage is more likely if exposure is to a combination of chemicals or a combination of the chemicals and noise.
Examples of occupations often exposed to both noise and ototoxic chemicals include:
- painting, printing, boat building, furniture making
- construction, manufacture of metal, fiberglass, leather and petroleum products
- aircraft maintenance, assay labs, radiator repair, fueling vehicles and aircraft, fire fighting, pesticide spraying and weapons firing.
Unfortunately, Material Safety Data Sheets in many cases do not contain warnings about potential hearing loss.
Risk Management Guidelines
Until revised standards are established, it is recommended that the 8-hour equivalent continuous noise level of workers exposed to any of the chemicals listed in Table 1 on page 29 of the Code of Practice (Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work) be reduced to 80 dB(A) or below.
Workers at risk of hearing loss from chemicals, should also undergo audiometric testing and be given information on ototoxic chemicals so they are aware of their exposure risk.
Annual audiograms are highly recommended for workers whose airborne exposures (without regard to respiratory protection worn) are at 50% or more of the exposure standards stated in the Safe Work Australia Hazardous Substances Information System for the chemical in question, regardless of the noise level.
Work Health Professionals can provide onsite audiometric testing and workplace noise surveys to support your Hearing Conservation policy. We can also conduct air monitoring to measure any work-related chemical exposures.
Find out more about our mobile WorkCover hearing test facilities and onsite audiology services in WA.