Ototoxic chemicals are chemicals that result in hearing loss. Some common ototoxic workplace includes solvents such as paint thinners and glues containing (ethanol, toluene and styrene), lead and carbon monoxide.
When these chemicals are inhaled or absorbed into the skin, they can damage the inner ear and/or auditory pathways.
Hearing damage more likely if exposed to a multiple chemicals or chemicals and noise.
Exposure standards for chemicals and noise do not take account of increased risk to hearing. Safety Data Sheets also do not generally warn about potential hearing loss.
What should workplaces do?
If your workplace undertakes activities where workers are exposed to noise and ototoxic chemicals (e.g. painting, printing, construction, furniture making, manufacture of metal, pesticide spraying), the control of noise and chemical exposure is most important.
It is recommended that you:
- Avoid the use of ototoxic chemicals or reduce exposure e.g. by increasing ventilation and preventing skin contact.
- Reduce the 8-hour equivalent continuous noise level of workers exposed to any ototoxic chemicals to 80 dB(A) or below;
- Provide annual audiograms for workers whose airborne exposures (without regard to respiratory protection worn) are at 50% or more of the exposure standards, regardless of the noise level.
- Ensure correct PPE is provided and correctly fitted (see PPE fit testing brochure hyperlink to http://www.safetyaction.com.au/assets/PDFs/PPE-Brochure-7MAR16.pdf or ask Safety Action about fit testing for respiratory and hearing protection); hyperlink to enquiries subj PPE fit test