Exposure data on ototoxic hazardous substances and noise

Project No. BGIA 4137


completed 10/2006


Among the requirements of EU directive 2003/10/EC of 6 February 2003 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise) are that employers identify and assess risks regarding their indirect effect through interactions between noise and work-related ototoxic substances (Section II, Article 4 (6) d) ). Ototoxic substances are substances which have a toxic effect upon the hearing and which damage its function temporarily or permanently. No clear findings exist as yet regarding the effect of exposure upon human hearing under practical conditions. Certain substances suspected of having this effect are however repeatedly cited in the literature. This project is to describe the scope for identification of working areas, working methods or activities which result in employees being exposed at the same time to noise and to substances which are suspected of being ototoxic. As a first step, this could assist in identifying relevant workplaces and steering the corresponding activities which are necessary.


A list of substances was drawn up which are suspected of being ototoxic. In consultation with toxicologists, this list was reviewed and corrected, and further substances added as necessary. Based upon the BG databases for hazardous substance and noise exposure measurement (OMEGA) maintained at the BG Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BGIA), a number of relevant example working areas, working methods and tasks were identified in co-operation with the affected BGs. Preliminary results may serve as a guide to the subsequent procedure necessitated by the employer's obligations as stated in EU directive 2003/10/EC.


In a presentation delivered at the "Ototoxicity" event held by the BG Central office for safety and health at work (BGZ) on 4/5 July 2006 at the BG Academy (BGA) in Hennef, an overview of ototoxic hazardous substances and elements of a toxicological risk assessment were described, as was the scope for analysis of exposure data on hazardous substances and noise. A critical observation concerning research findings on human subjects is that precise exposure measurement presents problems, and that knowledge of ototoxic effects under the lower exposure conditions of modern workplaces is largely non-existent. Robust data are also lacking on the possible action of noise and ototoxic agents in combination. The potentially ototoxic substances with the greatest significance for occupational exposure are listed in the position paper issued by Working Groups 2.1 (noise) and 3 (hazardous substances) of the HVBG's occupational medicine committee.

Last Update:

2 May 2016


Financed by:
  • Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften (HVBG)
Research institution(s):
  • Berufsgenossenschaft Metall Süd

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

dangerous substances, noise/vibrations, muliple exposures multiple strain


chemical working substances, noise, toxicology

Description, key words:

work-related ototoxic substances, interaction, noise, identification of hazards, hazardous substances