Protect your hearing - Chemicals can damage hearing

Some chemicals can damage your hearing. These are called ototoxic chemicals. Construction workers are also at risk of hearing damage from noise exposure.

About one in five construction workers report that they have some hearing problems.

For an ototoxic chemical to affect the hearing system, it first has to enter the bloodstream, either by being inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through skin.  The chemical then circulates to the blood vessels supplying the inner ear and damages the cells.

Which chemicals might damage hearing?

Some ototoxic chemicals include:

  • Solvents in paints, thinners, glues and degreasers – e.g. toluene, xylene, n-hexane, ethyl benzene and trichloroethylene  
  • Lead in old paint, solder or batteries
  • Styrene in resins
  • Carbon monoxide in engine exhaust (may increase hearing loss for workers also exposed to noise)

What can be done?

  • Find out what is in the chemical products you use. Read the label and Safety Data Sheet (SDS or MSDS).
  • Choose water based products instead of solvent based products where possible.
  • Follow the safety directions for the chemical. Keeping your exposure low reduces the risk of harm.
  • Protect your hearing from noise as well. Talk to your boss about quieter tools, and use hearing protectors in noisy areas.
  • If you are significantly exposed to any of these chemicals, request annual hearing tests (recommended in the Safe Work Australia Code of Practice for managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work).
  • Protect your hearing and minimise ototoxic chemical exposures when you’re not working as well. Turn down the music on your headset, and use earplugs or earmuffs when using noisy tools or attending loud concerts.

Further information

Last updated 26 May 2017

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