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Work-related hearing loss linked to noise and chemicals

Construction worker covering ears in pain from noise

Noisy workplaces have long been a hazard to employees, as workers operating loud equipment may be at risk of hearing loss. Responsible employers use sound level meters to monitor decibel levels and will require hearing protection if the noise is measured to be unsafe.

What many people might not realize is that another culprit in the workplace can also damage hearing: certain chemicals called ototoxins.

What types of chemicals can cause hearing loss?

Workers who are exposed to certain pesticides, solvents, and pharmaceuticals face a risk of hearing damage. These ototoxic chemicals can also cause balance problems. According to an article in Occupational Health & Safety, the risk increases when workers are exposed to chemicals and are working in an environment with elevated noise levels.

In the OHS article, Greg Boothe, faculty lead for occupational health and safety at Columbia Southern University, writes that workers can face harmful exposure to chemicals through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Advocates for workplace safety express concern because it’s difficult to link hearing loss to chemical exposure.

Chemical-induced hearing loss cannot be measured with a sound-level meter, which is how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would determine whether noise is posing a threat to workers.

Which jobs pose the most risk of hearing loss to workers?

According to OSHA, ototoxins are used in a number of occupations, including but not limited to:

  • Painting
  • Printing
  • Construction
  • Fueling vehicles and aircraft
  • Firefighting
  • Weapons firing
  • Pesticide spraying

How can you prevent exposure to ototoxic chemicals?

OSHA states the first step to protecting workers is to know chemicals that may induce hearing loss are being used in the workplace.

“Employers must provide health and safety information as well as training to workers exposed to hazardous materials, including ototoxic chemicals,” OSHA says.

Employers should take the following steps:

  • Replace a hazardous chemical with one that is less toxic.
  • Provide personal protective equipment for employees who may be working around the chemicals, such as respiratory and hearing protection.
  • Add enhanced ventilation in a workspace where ototoxic chemicals are being used.

Our lawyers fight for victims of workplace hearing loss

If you suffered hearing loss while on the job, you may be entitled to benefits through a workers’ compensation claim. The problem is the process of actually getting workers’ comp benefits can be extremely complex.

You may face an employer or insurance company that argues your hearing loss is not related to anything you do at work. In some cases, employers will pressure an employee to return to work when they’re not ready.

At Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP, our experienced New York workers’ compensation lawyers can guide you through the entire process and aggressively advocate for your best interests. For a free case evaluation, contact us today to see how we can help you.

We serve clients in New York City and throughout the state.

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