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The Process of Audiometric Testing in The Workplace  

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Audiometric testing in the workplace is not new, however, in recent times, due to the inclusion of regulations in the OHSA act, the practice has become more prevalent. After 2005 when noise regulations were imposed stating that anyone who is subjected to noise levels of 85 dB or more must be provided with audiometric testing to safeguard the employer and employee in the event of future necessity. The concept of audiometric testing in the workplace is very much like an audiometric test you would more than likely have undergone at school to measure your hearing abilities. This kind of testing in the workplace situation is carried out either in specially designed mobile units or a quiet room within the building, whichever is more suited to the requirements and preferences of the company involved.

The Process Itself is Painless

The audiometric testing process is fairly simple and completely painless. The person being tested is asked to wear a set of headphones. A series of sounds of differing volumes and pitches are transmitted through the headphones. The person being tested acknowledges when a sound is heard and in this way the tester is able to identify whether or not any hearing loss has taken place. Each test only takes about fifteen minutes to complete and the use of highly calibrated equipment is essential for valid results. Each test will be presented with results allowing the company to take the necessary precautions and measures to comply with noise regulations and ensure the safety and health of their employees.

Testing Protocol

Any audiometric testing in the workplace should always be carried out by a professional who is certified and has the necessary experience in the field. Equipment used needs to be of the highest caliber and compliant with all health and safety regulations set in place by the state. The initial testing should take place within the first three months of employment and the results from that should be used as the baseline against which all other future results are to be measured. The follow up test needs to be undertaken after twelve to twenty four months at the maximum to measure whether any hearing loss has taken place or if hearing has remained constant. Follow up monitoring bi-yearly, or more frequently in high risk situations, is required if no shift in threshold has been measured.

What Are Threshold Shifts?

When your hearing is exposed to noises above 75 dB, the sensitivity of your ears will decrease. This process of de-sensitising is called a threshold shift and can take place in a number of ways.

  • Temporary threshold shift recovers gradually after noise exposure.
  • Permanent threshold shift does not recover and is permanent.

Precautionary Measures and Actions

There are actions that need to be taken in instances where sufficient hearing loss has taken place to compromise the safe performance of employees and interfere with their communication abilities.

  • All avenues should be investigated and practicable steps taken to modify the work environment.
  • Offering employees alternative work which does not subject them to excessive noise that could further damage their hearing.

From the moment any shift in threshold is noted, permanent or temporary as well as tinnitus, the employer needs to be notified so that the following actions can be taken:

  • Re-determine the employees’ noise exposure
  • Take remedial action to reduce the level of noise exposure as well as the duration if possible
  • Ensure that the hearing protection used by the employee is adequate for the level of noise exposure
  • Review the employees’ job and identify any possible changes that could have increased levels of noise exposure the employee is subjected to which may have caused an increase in hearing loss
  • Check the fit of the hearing protection worn by the employee
  • Identify whether or not the employee has any difficulties using the hearing protection
  • Check if the hearing protection is being used correctly

 

Employee Awareness

Empconstruction-worker-956495_1920loyees are not safety professionals and are not aware of the risks posed by exposure to loud noise but they do need to be made aware. An employer who is safety conscious will do whatever is in their power to motivate and educate their employees on the risks involved and preventive measures that can be undertaken. Just as it is the job of the employer to ensure a safe environment for the employees, one that protects their hearing, it is also the responsibility of the employee to do what they can to protect their own hearing.

Eradicate The Illusion That The Employee is Invincible

 As with many young people starting out whether in life or industry, they have this perception that they are invincible and that nothing can harm them. There are many workers young and old who do not believe that they are susceptible to any hearing loss risk in the workplace. Yes, over time your brain adjusts and becomes accustomed to the levels of noise around you and you may find many people making statements like they are used to the noise or it isn’t that loud when all indications and measurements show something vastly different. Your ears don’t get used to the noise, any reduction in the noise is caused through hearing loss. The employee needs to make the employee realise they are at risk and they are not invincible by producing facts. Each employee must undergo audiometric testing and the results must be kept as valid proof. Any progression of hearing loss by a scientific test such as this is enough to shake anybody into action. It has been shown that noise induced hearing loss numbers are reduced after annual audiometric testing report reveals hearing loss. In some cases the hearing loss is so unnoticeable during everyday life, however, it is enough to affect the hearing measurement. Companies can be proactive in publicly broadcasting noise level in areas or for particular equipment and this has shown a marked improvement in the number of employers who make use of their hearing protection. By posting the noise measurements publicly it also allows temporary worker and visitors to be warned of the dangers as well as reminding permanent staff. Educating workers about noise and the damage it can cause is the best way to ensure any controls you put in place are effectively enforced and implemented.

Demonstrate and Discuss Future Risk

As is human nature, employers are more concerned with the risks that will affect them now. Noise-induced hearing loss is not immediately noticeable and it occurs over time. The employer needs to make them aware of the future risks involved. Employers often use simulated hearing losses or audio demonstrations to convey the message to employees of what could happen if they aren’t religious about their hearing protection. In instances where noise damages the hearing, the noticeable difference is experienced in clarity rather than how loud it is. This can be due to fact that noise induced hearing affects sounds that have a frequency.

Remove The Obstacles and Barriers to Wearing Hearing Protection

As an employer, don’t allow your staff to make excuses for not wearing protective gear. Ask the question after the regular audiometric testing and you may be surprised by some of the answers provided. Ensure that hearing protection is always readily available or provided in dispensers. Always ensure that the hearing protection selected is suitable for the application. Many employees choose against wearing the gear because it causes obstacles in communication, job performance or is simply just uncomfortable to wear. Selecting hearing protection with this in mind will eliminate any potential barriers to hearing safety procedures.

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In conclusion

At the end of the day it is both the responsibility of the employer and employee to protect the hearing of the employees. The employer can make every opportunity available, however, if the employee fails to see the importance then all good done by the employer is eradicated. Because noise induced hearing presents no pain or visible trauma and the results are progressive, it is often not noticeable in the early stages and in the mind of the employee doesn’t exist. This is why it is so urgent that employees are made aware of the future risks involved.

Audiometric testing is not an option, it is a necessity that should be included in any employment contract. Safeguarding the employer as well as the employee in every instance. Regular testing and results is the only way to keep a handle on the situation and identify possible problems in the workplace that need to be attended to in order to prevent further damage to the affected or other individuals.

It is the employers’ duty to be rigid in their application of rules and regulations pertaining to hearing loss protection but also to educate the workforce as to why the need for it is so vital. It isn’t always easy to make employees understand what future risks could be when they aren’t affected by it now. This is where innovation and creative thinking plays a role. Use videos, posters, audio displays and whatever else you may find useful to relay the message. Perhaps get workers who have been affected by noise induced hearing loss to talk at safety meetings and help the employees to understand what the difficulties are that they have experienced and the implications of not making use of protective measures.

The implications of hearing loss in the workplace are far reaching and don’t only affect your ability to communicate at work but at home and in public as well. Safety concerns are raised in all areas where hearing loss has occurred. You are not only put at risk in the workplace but in any daily activity you undertake. Something as simple as crossing a street can be detrimental. Quality of relationships deteriorates due to lack of communication or miscommunication.

If you know you have been subjected to extended periods of loud noise in the workplace and you feel your hearing may be compromised, or even if it appears fine to you, go for audiometric testing. The results are well worth the fifteen minutes spent during the appointment. If all is clear then your mind is at ease, however, if not you may have caught it early on and you can still take measures to prevent further loss. In cases where hearing loss is already severe, you will be able to obtain advice on what aids and options are available to you.

The professional carrying out the audiometric testing will be able to properly explain to you the damage caused and the extent of that damage. They will be able to provide you with the necessary information regarding your type of hearing loss and make you aware of the risks going forward. As with anything in life, knowledge is power.

If you happen to be an employer, take the necessary steps to protect your employees from suffering noise induced hearing loss due to the environment in which they work. Your employees will thank you for it. A workforce that is well-looked after, happy and healthy is one that will reward you with productivity. In business your workforce is your set of tools and as with any tools if not properly oiled and maintained and left to degenerate, they won’t perform and are more likely to just stop working completely. For a business that flourishes, the workforce must be healthy and content and audiometric testing and hearing protection is just a step in the right direction.

Don’t risk the rest of your life because you think you are invincible and above the risks posed in the workplace. You many not recognize the symptoms of your negligence now, however, you will be affected over a period of time and when you do realise it, your hearing loss may already be significant and pose risks to your well being. Make your booking for your audiometric testing or speak to your employer now to work safely and maintain good health.

A Guide to Audiometric Testing

Audiometric Assessments

Audiometric Assessments or Audiometric tests determine a person’s hearing level with the help of an audiometer. It measures their ability to distinguish between different sound intensities and pitch. Results of audiometric tests are captured on an audiogram that is used to diagnose hearing loss or disease of the ear.

Are Audiometric Assessments important?

If your organisation provides hearing protection (e.g. earplugs, muffs) to employees as a control measure to limit hazardous noise exposure, then you are required by law to provide audiometric assessments for employees. You should ensure that mandatory audiometric testing is provided within three months of an employee starting work (if they will be exposed to hazardous noise).

Businesses are also required to regularly monitor employee hearing levels by conducting an audiometric assessment at least every two years and when reasonably requested by the OHS representative of a workgroup.

Who can do Audiometric Assessments?

Audiometric assessments must be carried out in compliance to the requirements of AS/NZS 1269.4:2005 – Occupational Noise Management – Auditory assessment. Hence it is strongly recommended that employers engage external service providers who can conduct assessments in accordance to this requirement while only using certified audiometric testing professionals. An audiometric evaluation shall be performed within a contained space, specially designed to filter out external noises while maintaining low internal noise levels so an accurate hearing test can be achieved.

What happens in an Audiometric Assessment?

In a typical audiometric assessment, the person is seated in a noise filtered booth (soundproof room or sound-treated room) wearing a headset and holding a responder.  The person is asked to click the responder whenever they hear a sound (in either their left or right ear). There are different techniques which can be used to conduct the audiometric assessment but the most common we use is the Hughson-Westlake Technique. The aim of the audiometric evaluation is to measure the Decibels Hearing Threshold level (dBHTL). dBHTL is the amount of sound that is needed by a majority of young people with no history of ear problems to just hear a sound.

The following key steps take place in a typical audiometric assessment:

  • Seating the individual and provided with instruction. The individual is required to click the responder whenever he/she hears a tone. Audiologist carefully place the earphones on the individual to ensure its effectively placed.
  • Setting the audiometer – A calibrated audiometer is set according to the test performed and subject’s history with hearing. E.g. Warble tone is generated for individuals who have a history of hearing problems and tinnitus. The audiometer generates pure tones across different frequencies Hz (such as 250, 500, 750, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000 & 8000) and pitch
  • Recording the results and plotting the audiogram – As and when the individual responds to the tones, with the help of the audiometer, the audiologist will plot the results into an audiogram. In some cases, a retest will be carried to verify and adjust the results accurately.

What do the results tell?

An audiogram will show the person’s level of hearing and level of hearing loss.

audiogram

According to Victorian OHS regulations, if two consecutive audiometric tests indicate a reduction in hearing levels equal to greater than 15dB at 3000, 4000 and 6000 Hz, an audiological examination needs to be provided as soon as reasonably possible. Ensure your audiometric service provider compiles a brief report along with individual audiograms and test results that will enable you to compare between consecutive tests.

Employers are required by law to retain audiometric test results and reports as a confidential record as part of the records management for as long as they are applicable. Also, employers must ensure that each employee is given a copy of their audiological examination report and audiometric test result.

Before discarding reports, employers should consider the following

  • If the person tested is still an employee
  • If the employee is required to use hearing protection
  • If the employee has been given an audiological examination.

Audiometric tests are considered a critical report when an employee claims a work-induced hearing loss.

 

Risks Associated with Hearing Loss

Why Is It So Necessary To Have Good Hearing In Certain Industries?

I am sure those of you who work in industries where noise is always a factor will understand why it is so important to have good hearing in the workplace. Even in office environments there can be noise disturbances caused by exterior stimuli that can affect hearing. For someone to work efficiently and safely it is imperative that hearing is excellent. With so many other sounds to contend with, hearing impairment only makes matters worse.

Office Environments

In order to follow instructions and converse with clients and fellow workers it is imperative that your hearing be of a good quality. In high pressure positions where instructions are necessary to be heard and understood in order for the work to continue, having to repeat yourself can becoming a little unnerving and you always have that nagging feeling that perhaps the instruction still wasn’t heard properly. With deadlines to meet, any time lost on incorrect work affects the bottom line figure of any company.

Industrial Sites

In industries where workers carry out tasks in areas where dangerous machinery is involved, it is vital that all workers are able to hear emergency signals or warnings with ease. This could be the difference between safe working and an accident on site. For this reason it has become a key factor in the OHSA act that all employees are to undertake audiometric testing on employment. This is to safeguard the employer in cases where an impairment is already an issue and any accident should occur or where it is found later that a hearing impairment is present and the employee lays the blame on the work environment. Of course, it is also in place to safeguard the employee in much the same way. If a baseline audiometric testing result at the beginning of employment shows normal hearing, however, an annual test reveal loss of hearing it can only be assumed that the work environment needs to be evaluated and the cause of the damage pinpointed to prevent the same resulting in the hearing loss of other employees.

Accidents caused through not hearing as such can put a huge financial strain on any company and affect their rating within the industry and no company, in this economic climate, can afford these blemishes on their records. Besides this, hearing loss deemed to be caused through the work environment can find an employee paying huge amounts in compensation to the affected employee.

Safety Precautions

Any company that wishes to be taken seriously nationally or internationally will take the necessary precautions to follow all health and safety procedures and to educate their employees in this as well. It is important for the employees to understand the importance of following safety rules and regulations and how it will benefit them in the long-term.

Signage is extremely important in any industry. Employees need to have visual warning of areas where hearing loss may occur so that they ensure that they wear the correct protective gear. Protective gear must be provided by the company within reason. Obviously an employee who on a daily basis requires new equipment will have to be penalized but never denied the equipment. Ear plugs are a common safety precaution in medium range noise environement but when it comes to the louder areas, ear muffs are often supplied to drown out the hazardous noise.

Hearing-Impaired Individuals

It is safe to say that those who are hearing impaired should not be prejudiced in any way. Every person deserves fair chance at employment where their skills warrant the appointment. It becomes a bit more challenging for these individuals who even in only slightly noise environments struggle to make out conversation or differentiating between sounds. Most hearing safety programs pay close attention to those with normal hearing, and often the hearing impaired are forgotten.

Most audiometric testing is carried out in environments that are quiet and don’t take into account the challenges faced by a hearing impaired individual in a noisy environment. Even the hearing impaired or those considered deaf will have some degree of hearing which needs to be protected from further loss or damage and the necessary precautions need to be made available.

The Challenges Faced By The Hearing Impaired

If you consider how those with normal hearing often struggle to hear instructions or warning in a noise environment, you can only pity those who are hearing impaired. When placed in situations where noise is a huge factor, the hearing function of an impaired person changes, the neurons in the inner ear work even harder to transmit messages to the brain. If you consider how even in environments where noise is minimal, the hearing impaired struggle to make out basic conversation or follow an understand basic instructions, you can only imagine the chaos caused in a noisy environment. The normal hearing protection aids pose more of a problem for hearing impaired employees as these aids normally muffle sounds even more, taking them below the threshold they can make out. A further complication comes when those who normally wear hearing aid devices wish to continue using them even when in noisy environments.Whereas hearing aids assist these individual to effectively communicate and hear warning signals, the hearing aids do amplify background noise which often takes noise levels above the safe threshold as far as the OHSA is concerned. In certain instances ear muffs may be worn over a hearing aid for protection or if no protection worn, the hearing aid should be turne off.

How Can You Identify If An Emplolyee is Hearing Impaired

There are cases where employees are not known to have a hearing impairment and this must be efficiently ascertained. Once this is realized, the degree of hearing loss must be identified. In order to test the hearing loss in a noisy environment, audiometric testing must be carried out using OSHA certified practitioners and procedures. In extreme cases where valid results are not achieved through on-site testing, additional audiometric testing may be required at off-site facilities.

Alternative Solutions To Hearing Protection For The Hearing Impaired

 Earmuffs that incorporate wired or wireless communication devices are becoming more popular for individuals who are hearing impaired. This limits incoming sounds and reduce sound or noise levels that could cause further damage to a hearing impaired individuals remaining hearing.

Passive hearing protection is a mechanical method of muffling sound and filtering it appropriately if it is correctly fitted. Employees are able to hear effectively while still protecting their remaining hearing.

This is usually effective in those who have lost high frequency hearing.

Active hearing protectors amplify sound to a level that is predetermined. In quieter environments these active hearing protectors do not have to be removed, environmental sounds can still be heard. To buy an active hearing protector with advanced sound amplification technology, visit our website.

Comfort and Safety Are Paramount

Hearing protection, as with any other equipment, can be of the highest quality and price but if it isn’s comfortable to wear, a hearing impaired individual, or any individual, won’t wear it. The best hearing protection is the one that your employee won’t take off. Removing your hearing protection even for a short while can have detrimental results. The overall effiveness of any hearing protection is reduce considerably during these periods.

It must always be carefully taken into consideration that the employee is hearing impaired and already faces certain challenges. What works for an employee of normal hearing may not be effective for a hearing impaired individual. It is always best to perform fit testing in the workplace making options available for the employee to find the fit that suits their comfort and the application as well as the environment.

Monitor Hearing Changes

As with those who have normal hearing, the hearing of those who are hearing impaired must be monitored regularly to ascertain whether the working environment is causing more damage and to identify whether or not the hearing protection being used is adequate or not. Audiometric testing should be carried out yearly and result measured agains t the baseline test undertaken at the begiinning of employement. The results should be made availabe to the employees and counselling should be provided in cases where results show a loss of hearing in any degree.

Often employees don’t want to admit to a hearing loss because they fear for their jobs. It must be remember that any discrimiation against a hearing impaired individual is against the rights of the individual. Any employee should not feel threatened at the thought of approaching their employer for assistance and the employee should be readily available to lend a helping hand.

It has been revealed that in many instances hearing impairment is not realized through testing but rather through body language on the job. Many a time a supervisor has noted certain movements made during conversation that indicate there may be a problem. Tilting the head to use the good ear, concentrating on lip movements to read what is being said, asking for instructions to be repeate often and warning sounds and signs often ignored. This alone is a safety risk and if recognized should sound warning bells and have that employee on the way to audiometric testing in a hurry. Should an accident occur and the employer has been notified there may be a problem, there could be serious consequences got he employer and the legal and financial implications could be devastating.

In Conclusion

An employee should never feel they are being targeted by having to take audiometric testing to evaluate hearing levels. Whether this is done at the beginning of employement, as it shoud, or when a potential problem is indicated, it is a process that is in place to safeguard theemployer as well as the employee. Should hearing loss occur due to work environement conditions the results of this initial tesing and the regular follow up testing will be their tool to gain compensation for the damage caused. On the other hand should hearing loss already be present and future tests reveal no change there is no way the employer could be given just cause for the initial recorded loss. If however no audiometric testing is carried out, the employer will have a very difficult time proving that the hearing loss was present beforehand and this relaxe attitude may be their downfall.

Hearing loss is nothing to be ashamed of definitely nothing that should hinder you from pursuing your dream job. No employer will discriminate against a hearing impaired individual if all the skills and requirements are met and exceeded. There are laws protecting employees from this kind of behaviour and they are laws no employer wants to be on the wrong end of.

Of course health and safety are always at the forefront in any workplace and where hearing impaired individuals are concerned there are certain adjustments that need to made in order for the processes to work effectively. Different devices need to be put in place for those who have a hearing impairment and as always comfort of the device is paramount whether hearing impaired or not.

Employers need to supply choices for individuals and allow them to select a device they will always wear to ensure maximum overall effectiveness.

Audiometric testing is a tool to aid both parties and to make the working experience one that is enjoyable and productive. Any business will flourish if the the employees are happy. A happy, safe and well-looked after workforce equates to productivity and in the end, profits.

Take control of you life today and advance in your career. You may find your commuication and productivity improve after realizing the problem. Don’t run from it, enbrace it and make the changes. Hiding or avoiding a possible problem is not helping anyone, employer or employee. It is in the best interest of all parties that audiometric testing is carried out as part of the initial employment enrolment programme, however, it means nothing if regular audiometric testing is not carried out once every two years. Results need to be properly documented for comparison purposes and results should always be made available to employees regardless of the results.