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In a recently published Safety and Health Information Bulletin, OSHA has warned employers and workers about exposure to a class of chemicals called ototoxicants that are known to cause hearing loss and other health issues. Do you have these chemicals in your workplace? If so, what should you do to protect the safety and health of your workforce?

Let’s take a closer look at OSHA’s bulletin and what these hazards may mean for your business.

What are Ototoxicants?

An ototoxicant is a type of chemical that damages portions of the human ear upon exposure, specifically the nerve fibers that are responsible for hearing and balance. Because of their damaging effects on nerve tissues, they are also a variety of neurotoxin. Ototoxicants can reach the inner ear through the blood stream, and cause injury to the inner ear and associated neural pathways.

What Substances Contain Ototoxicants?

Many substances may contain ototoxicants, including certain pesticides, solvents and pharmaceuticals. The following table includes examples of ototoxicants, grouped by substance class:

This is not an exhaustive list, and may include other substances. The exposure thresholds for individual chemicals vary, depending on exposure route and duration, additive effects with noise exposure, and individual risk factors. Performing an SDS/MSDS search can help identify potential ototoxicants in your chemical inventory.

What Industries are Likely to Use Ototoxicants?

Industries that may potentially use ototoxicants include manufacturing, mining, utilities, construction, and mining. Manufacturing subsectors that have an increased likelihood of using ototoxicants include:

OSHA selected these subsectors based on their high potential for use of ototoxcicants, as well as the potential for noise exposures that may aggravate ototoxic effects. For instance, boat construction often involves use of styrene, a known ototoxicant, and also may involve use of equipment that creates significant noise exposures, therefore posing an elevated risk.

According to OSHA, certain activities carry risks regardless of the primary industry subsector they occur within, due to the substances used and the presence of noise exposure as a contributing factor. Some of these activities include printing, painting, pesticide spraying and fueling of vehicles and aircraft.

How do I Manage Ototoxicant Hazards?

It all starts with identifying whether you have ototoxicants in your workplace. The best way to determine this is to review Section 11 (Toxicological Information) of the SDSs for chemicals in your inventory. On SDSs for ototoxicants, Section 11 will state that studies have identified the chemical as a neurotoxicant. Then, look up additional information from sources such as OSHA or the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for those chemicals identified as neurotoxicants to determine if they are specifically known to cause hearing loss.

If you determine you have ototoxicants in your workplace, the most effective way to reduce exposure risks is to eliminate the substance, if possible. If that is not feasible, you’ll need to work your way through the next best options in OSHA’s hierarchy of controls. For example, you can use engineering controls such as fume hoods and other ventilation systems to remove airborne ototoxicants, and use noise dampening panels to reduce noise exposure risks that can exacerbate hearing loss from ototoxicant exposures. Administrative controls can also be implemented to reduce the time employees spend working with ototoxicants, or in noisy environments.

As a last resort, employers can provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees. Several types of PPE may be needed, including chemical-protective gloves to prevent absorption through the skin, as well as hearing protection. Remember, if your employees are exposed to sound pressure levels of 85 decibels or more as a time-weighted average (TWA), you will also need to have a written hearing protection program, provide baseline audiometric testing and annual testing, and monitor test results to determine if employees have experienced occupationally caused hearing loss.

Additional information on ototoxicants and hearing loss prevention is available from the CDC, or from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention topic page.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

VelocityEHS offers a comprehensive SDS and chemical management platform that simplifies the identification and tracking of ototoxicants that may be present in your workplace, giving you the control and visibility you need to begin assessing your exposure risks. You’ll also be better equipped to share hazard information with employees, so that identified risks can be more effectively managed. For more information on ototoxicants in your workplace, search our massive online library of SDSs and MSDSs.

In addition, our powerful Compliance Management solution makes it easy to assign and schedule compliance tasks including installation of hazard controls, monitoring of chemical exposures, providing PPE and managing hearing protection requirements. You can then track follow-up and corrective actions, and automatically send escalating notifications to ensure you’re staying on top of OSHA standards and protecting the safety and health of your workers. By having the right solutions in place, you’ll be able to pro-actively address risks from ototoxicants and maintain a safe and productive workplace.