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OSHA warns against ototoxicant exposure in the workplace

Workers in New Jersey may incur hearing loss and other issues through continual exposure to certain chemicals, especially the ototoxicants found in many solvents, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. This is according to a Safety and Health Information Bulletin just released by OSHA.

Those who work in agriculture, mining, construction and utilities are at high risk for developing these issues. Shipbuilders, metal workers, textile workers and painters are particularly affected by ototoxicants. Exposure to it becomes all the more dangerous when combined with high noise levels. Ototoxicants reduce hearing by damaging the hairs in the ear as well as the nerve fibers. The chemicals can enter the bloodstream into the inner ear.

The resulting hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. One common type of hearing dysfunction is the inability to discriminate between who is speaking in a conversation. This could go hand in hand with the inability for workers to distinguish voices or warning signals from ambient noise.

Employers may address this problem by first identifying, with the help of OSHA's Safety Data Sheet, those areas in the workplace where ototoxic substances and chemicals are being used. Because one's skin can absorb ototoxicants, employers should ensure that workers wear proper clothing. For those times when exposure is unavoidable, isolation and enclosure controls should be in place.

Under workers' compensation law, workers who are harmed on the job may be reimbursed for their medical costs and also receive wage replacement. This applies not only to physical injuries but also to conditions arising from continual exposure to chemicals. Though victims do not have to prove that anyone was negligent in order to qualify, they may still want a lawyer by their side in case their employer refuses the benefits. The lawyer might help with any appeal.

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