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Workplace safety and the hazards posed by ototoxicants

Employers in New York must protect the safety and health of their employees, and they must inform workers of the hazards to which they will be exposed. Workplace safety is the responsibility of employers, but there are some hazards of which even they may not be aware. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently published a bulletin to create awareness of ototoxicants, which are chemicals that can damage workers' hearing.

Unfortunately, research related to ototoxic hearing loss is still limited, and hearing tests cannot yet determine whether noise or ototoxicants caused the damage. However, it has been established that the most significant danger is the fact that these chemicals bring about speech discrimination dysfunction. This diminishes an affected worker's ability to distinguish the sounds of the voices of co-workers and known warning signals from ambient noises.

According to OSHA, ototoxicants are present in metals and compounds, nitriles, solvents, asphyxiants like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke, and pharmaceuticals that include antibiotics and analgesics. They can be absorbed through a worker's skin, ingested or inhaled. Industries in which exposure hazards are significant include construction, agriculture, mining and utilities along with certain manufacturing sectors such as metal fabrication, boat and shipbuilders and those working with textile, apparel and paint.

Although the New York workers' compensation insurance program provides benefits to cover medical expenses for injured workers, proving that the lack of workplace safety caused hearing loss may be challenging. This is due to the fact that ototoxicants are still largely unknown hazards. However, the help of an experienced workers' compensation attorney can simplify the claims process.

Source: safetyandhealthmagazine.com, "Exposure to certain chemicals may cause hearing loss, OSHA warns", March 28, 2018

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