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The prevalence and causes of occupational hearing loss

Many employees in New Jersey might not consider hearing loss a potential risk of their jobs, so they may be shocked to learn that 24 percent of hearing-loss cases among workers is the result of their occupations. Affecting more than 11 percent of the working population, hearing loss is in the top three of chronic health problems in older adults behind hypertension and arthritis.

The two causes of occupational hearing loss are exposure to ototoxic chemicals and loud noise. Ototoxic chemicals include asphyxiants such as hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide; organic solvents such as trichloroethylene, styrene and mixtures; and heavy metals such as lead, trimethyltin and mercury. Around 10 million employees are exposed to solvents every year while an uncertain number of workers are exposed to other ototoxic chemicals.

Loud noises are considered hazardous when they reach 85 decibels or higher. They are also hazardous if individuals have to raise their voices to talk to each other but are only standing an arm's length or 3 feet apart. It is reported that around 22 million employees are exposed to loud noises every year.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health encourages occupational hearing loss surveillance to establish the prevalence of hearing loss in various industries, to identify workers who are at risk and to evaluate the success of interventions. Surveillance efforts include collecting employee exposure and hearing data and monitoring trends. Without surveillance, it is impossible to gauge the success of prevention efforts and determine where improvements are needed.

Considered a chronic health condition, workers who suffer from occupational hearing loss might be entitled to workers' compensation. The benefits could pay for any resulting medical costs and the loss of wages if the injured workers lose their hearing completely or are no longer able to work.

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