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Exposure to noise and ototoxic chemicals in the Australian workforce
  1. Kate Lewkowski1,
  2. Jane S Heyworth2,
  3. Ian W Li2,
  4. Warwick Williams3,
  5. Kahlia McCausland1,
  6. Corie Gray1,
  7. Elinor Ytterstad4,
  8. Deborah C Glass5,
  9. Adrian Fuente6,
  10. Si Si7,
  11. Ines Florath1,
  12. Lin Fritschi1
  1. 1School of Public Health, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  2. 2School of Population and Global Health, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia
  3. 3National Acoustic Laboratories, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Department of Mathematics and Statistics, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
  5. 5Monash Centre for Occupational & Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  6. 6École d’orthophonie et d’audiology, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  7. 7School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Kate Lewkowski, School of Public Health, Curtin University, Perth WA 6102, Australia; katherine.lewkowski{at}


Objective To determine the current prevalence of exposure to workplace noise and ototoxic chemicals, including co-exposures.

Method A cross-sectional telephone survey of nearly 5000 Australian workers was conducted using the web-based application, OccIDEAS. Participants were asked about workplace tasks they performed and predefined algorithms automatically assessed worker’s likelihood of exposure to 10 known ototoxic chemicals as well as estimated their full shift noise exposure level (LAeq,8h) of their most recent working day. Results were extrapolated to represent the Australian working population using a raked weighting technique.

Results In the Australian workforce, 19.5% of men and 2.8% of women exceeded the recommended full shift noise limit of 85 dBA during their last working day. Men were more likely to be exposed to noise if they were younger, had trade qualifications and did not live in a major city. Men were more likely exposed to workplace ototoxic chemicals (57.3%) than women (25.3%). Over 80% of workers who exceeded the full shift noise limit were also exposed to at least one ototoxic chemical in their workplace.

Conclusion The results demonstrate that exposures to hazardous noise and ototoxic chemicals are widespread in Australian workplaces and co-exposure is common. Occupational exposure occurs predominantly for men and could explain some of the discrepancies in hearing loss prevalence between genders.

  • occupational exposure
  • noise, occupational
  • survey and questionnaires
  • toluene
  • carbon monoxide

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Funding This work was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (grant no. 1059562). LF was supported by a fellowship from the NHMRC.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Curtin Human Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.