According to the OHSA act it is required for each company to make audiometric testing available to all employees who are exposed to eight hours of noise that exceeds eighty five decibels. If you are employed with a company and within the first six months you are subjected to eighty five decibels or higher you need to be made to take an audiogram in order to get a baseline reading against which all future audiometric testing results will be measured. These tests must be carried out by a professional in the field such as an audiologist, physician or someone approved and certified by the Council of Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation.
The OHSA act allows professionals to make the final decision on whether or not the work which you carry out could have contributed to any hearing loss you may have encountered. This is one of the main reasons why it is so important for companies to make use of experience professionals in the field of audiometric testing. This safeguards the employee and ensures that the employee is in the best hands possible. Companies usually make use of the same physicians for a number of years. Throughout your working life, you may be subjected to multiple bouts of audiometric testing and if a different physician is used every time they may have no knowledge of your baseline test results and in essence not really be able to tell if there has been any hearing loss or even if it was caused through your work environment. By using established, reliable and reputable medical facilities companies are guaranteed that results will be valid and that the quality of testing will be high. These companies usually keep records of employee audiometric testing results for the employer assisting in effective management of the program.
The implementation of an audiometric testing program within a company does not been that it will be without flaws. There are reported cases where it has been proven that the employer is not really concerned whether you obtain hearing loss or not and that in instances where minimal safety precautions are required, these are even ignored. Employees are offered regular audiometric testing, however, the results are never shared with them and no comparisons between these and their baseline tests are ever shared with them. Implementing such a program needs to be done properly if the benefits are to be felt effectively by both employer and employee.
It is a ruling by the NIOSH that employees have to be made aware of the fact that audiometric testing is available to them and the procedures must be carried out properly. Examiners must provide the employees being tested with information and material on hearing loss or suffer penalisation by the NIOSH. By providing information on how to prevent hearing loss you make the employees aware of he dangers and you also help to prevent future medical cost implications in the future.
It has been noted that many supervisors have reported that almost a third of their workforce has suffered hearing loss however this was not identified through the evaluation of audiometric testing results but rather by on the job activities like having to repeat things over before they are heard and understood or an employee tilting the head to the side to make use of the ear with good hearing. If these tests are being carried out and results documented then they should be used by management to reach a conclusion regarding the health and hearing safety of their employees.
Why The Need To Test and Why Employees Avoid It
Employees are often too embarrassed to undergo audiometric testing and in other cases they fear for their job security. Although hearing impaired employees are protected from discrimination by the Americans with disabilities act, employees still fear being fired or moved to another department due to their progressive hearing impairment.
In many adults the fact that the hearing seems to be dwindling is often ignored for far too long. Many leave it as long as seven years before addressing the problem and by then the degree of loss is far too advanced.
In the workplace it is extremely important to be aware of any employee who has suffered hearing loss. Accidents could easily take place because an employee fails to hear a command or follow an instruction, not through obstinance but simply because they didn’t hear it. Any workplace is filled with dangers and the ability to hear a warning signal is imperative.
All companies need to educate their employees on the importance of good hearing in the workplace and the need to protect your hearing from damage. Each company needs to provide their employees with protective gear that ensures that the ears and hearing are conserved. This can be in the form of earplugs or earmuffs if the decibel reading is excessive.
What Is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
There are many reasons that hearing loss can occur, however, the most common type in industry being a cumulative loss because of long-term exposure to noise levels about eighty five decibels in the work environment. Repeated exposure to these noise levels causes temporary hearing loss but this will eventually become permanent noise induced hearing loss.
What is The Temporary Threshold Shift?
When the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, temporary hearing loss is suffered. Often ringing in the ears or tinnitus is experienced and most often occurs when subjected to short term high noise levels. In these cases if audiometric testing was carried out immediately after the event, there would be a noticeable reduction in hearing ability. After a short period the hearing usually returns to normal or baseline and the shift has been temporary which gives rise to the term temporary threshold shift.
What is Standard or Signifiant Threshold Shift?
Standard threshold shift as defined by OHSA act is a term used to describe a change in hearing threshold relative to the baseline audiogram of an average ten decibels or more at 2000.3000 and 4000 Hz in either ear from baseline levels. As per OHSA act stipulations additional audiometric testing and follow-up action is required in any employee displaying standard or significant threshold shift. This term is also used by NIOSH to describe a change of fifteen decibels or more at any frequency from 500 to 6000 Hz from baseline levels in the same ear and at the same frequency.
What is Permanent or Persistent Threshold Shift?
This refers to damage to the ear as a result of continued exposure to excessive noise over a period of time. When temporary or standard threshold shifts are present and there is no recovery of the ability to hear, it is said that the person has suffered permanent hearing loss.
How Is A Baseline Test Carried Out And How Is It Used For Comparison?
The baseline test is carried out by testing a persons response to pure tone sounds in frequencies that cover the major range of human hearing. The baseline test is the first test carried out on an employee and is the result that will be used to measure any follow-up tests against In order to quantify any hearing loss.
Implication of Noise Induced Hearing Loss in Industry
The most obvious implications are on the health of the employee and the ability of said employee to communicate effectively on the job. There are, however, also other implications which include cost implications. This can be measured by money spent on hearing loss claims through workers compensation insurance claims or lawsuits taken up against the employer. Compensation claims can reach anywhere between ten thousand dollars to twenty five thousand dollars per employee although there have been cases where the claims awarded have been significantly higher. In areas where workers are not covered by workers compensation, the employee can take direct legal action again the employer.
This is what makes collecting and documenting results of audiometric testing so important for companies. This data could be the decisive factor in whether an employer is held liable for damage caused to the hearing of the employee and of course the resultant legal and cost implications involved.
How Do You As A Business Get The Most From your Audiometric Testing Program?
- Qualified Personal
The most critical part of any audiometric program is the implementation and use of trained technicians, audiologists and physicians. It is recommended that these professionals are certified by the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation. There is really no point in an employee undertaking a test but never being given the results even when there is a problem presenting. Having an audiologist prseent during a testing wherever it may be carried out ensures that the employee is able to be given immediate feedback and results on their audiometric testing. Threshold shifts and problematic audiograms can be addressed right away.
- Quality Control Equals Reliable Data
There are instances where a company can be held liable and responsible for vast hearing loss in employees and this is why it is so imperative that decision making data is reliable. The professional carrying out any particular test needs to ensure that the methodolgy, reputation, quality control and analysis are of the highest quality. There are many companies who are more concerned with how quickly they can move through the employee audiometric testing and while this does have implications on the costs to the company it can also jeopardise the quality and validity of the results.
- Baseline Tests, Retests and Follow Up Testing
There are still a number of companies who are unaware of the fact that they are obligated to carry out audiometric testing on their employees and through this they have not undertaken the required baseline tests from the outset. This fact opens the company up to liability if the employee later claims that hearing loss was caused through excessive noise on the job even if it occurred before the term of employment began. On the other end of the scale many companies carry out baseline tests but fail to do the necessary retests and follow ups on shifts found during annual audiograms. The only way to combat either of these events is by ensuring that a written audiometric testing policy is developed and adhered to.
- Know The Compensation Implications
Audiometric testing policies need to be carefully developed, taking into account the jurisdiction and the laws pertaining to it. The differences pertaining to determining hearing impairment and compensation can have a huge financial impact on any business. If a company has sites in different jurisdictions then a general policy may not suffice. Each area and the requirements needs to be evaluated and the policy adjusted for each area accordingly. Taking these necessary steps will safeguard the employer and ensure the safety and health of the employees.
As you can see audiometric testing has a significant place for all employers and employees alike Hearing is something that is sometimes imperative in certain occupations for both the safety on site of all employees as well as for communication reasons. It is the duty of all employers to ensure that every employer is aware of the dangers posed to their hearing and the implications of hearing loss and also to explain procedures to prevent such instances. Every company must provide employees with protective gear which serves the purpose of protecting the ears and hearing. Companies should take all the necessary precautions to safeguard themselves in cases where claims for hearing loss may be submitted. Ensuring that all data collected is valid and correctly stored for easy access should the need arise. It is the responsibility of both parties to pay special attention to procedures and to ensure that hearing loss and the associated health issues and costs are kept in check.
Health and safety regulations are in place for a reason and yes, at times they may seem tedious and pointless but in the broader scheme of things they are far from that.