Millions of Americans go to work every day without considering the health risks they may be getting exposed to. When we consider occupational health risk factors, we immediately think of heavy lifting, dangerous machinery or repetitive motions. Another risk that we may unknowingly expose ourselves to in many workplaces is occupational hearing loss.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 32 million workers are exposed to either hazardous noise or ototoxic chemicals each year, causing about 24% of the hearing loss among U.S. workers.
Hearing loss isn’t just about loud noise exposure
Of course, when you are working around saws, presses or other machines known to generate high-decibel noise, you are at risk of damaging your hearing. The screech of metal on metal or the loud pounding of construction equipment can make your jaw hurt just thinking about it.
A lesser-known cause of hearing loss is exposure to what is known as ototoxic chemicals, or chemicals and solvents known to be toxic to our biological hearing apparatus. Some examples of ototoxic chemicals include:
- Noxious gases such as carbon monoxide or hydrogen cyanide
- Metals and compounds including lead, tin and mercury
- Solvents such as styrene, trichloroethylene and toluene used to remove grease from automotive parts or in paints
- Certain pharmaceuticals such as antineoplastic agents
Your employer has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment. Part of your onboarding should be training to safely handle any ototoxic chemicals or solvents. If you work in a space with frequent or constant exposure to loud noise, safety measures such as earplugs ought to be provided. If you sustain hearing damage or loss due to your job responsibilities or occupational environment, you may have grounds for a workers’ compensation claim.