Onsite Hearing Test: The Business Side of Occupational Safety & Health

Managing an occupational safety and health noise monitoring program can be a time consuming, inefficient and non regulatory compliant task if not overseen effectively.  One approach to eliminating the myriad of barriers for a comprehensive monitoring program is to incorporate a third party vendor within it.

Onsite hearing test

Taking the necessary time up front to invest in a vendor during a vetting process will pay dividends in the near future.  This article will focus on what the vetting process is to consist of, specifically what to bargain for, so that you know if your investment is paying off like it should.

However, before we do, let’s take a quick look at the benefits of an onsite test.

  • Very little downtime for workers to leave their job to attend an offsite clinic appointment. Usually 10-15 minutes per person to complete the test. Employer is able to temporarily shut down a department or production line for a very short period of time.  Or substitute employees are placed to keep production going while a group of individuals are having the testing conducted.
  • More cost effective than making appointments at clinics due to group testing compared to individual testing. One schedule for a mobile unit is all that is needed; no multiple schedules for large groups.
  • Subject Matter Experts (SME) are experienced, trained and qualified personnel who understand how to conduct noise testing and are experts in noise regulations. Some medical centers may not have the expertise requirements.
  • Direct line of communication. SME’s available to ask questions and provide explanation prior to, during and after testing.
  • Required noise and hearing training done at time of testing. No need to schedule two separate time slots, one for testing and another for training.

Vendor Vetting – On site Hearing test Mobile Unit

Consider the mobile unit the vendor will bring onsite.  How many individual booths does it accommodate? Do the booths meet regulatory standards for audiometry assessments.  Are the calibration records of hearing test equipment current and up to date and available for review?

Is the trailer properly equipped with air conditioning and heat for the comfort of employees as well as for the audiometric professional?  Does the mobile unit have backup power?

Vendor Vetting – Audiometric testing Services & Cost

Does the vendor provide additional services besides audiometric testing tied to the cost?  Is the price structure easy to understand, competitive when compared to other vendors and is it all inclusive (watch out for hidden costs)?  What type of reports are provided for the employer and for the employee?  Is a retainer available?

Vendor Vetting – Referrals

Ask for at least three recent referrals from the vendor.  Do your due diligence and contact the referrals to ask about the vendor’s quality of service, professionalism of technicians, ease of scheduling for testing and accuracy of documents.

Vendor Vetting – Insurance & Business Documents

Does the vendor have the appropriate business entity documents to be in business?  Is their insurance applicable to meet employer and jurisdictional requirements?

The vendor vetting list is not all inclusive.  Many additional factors do play in the process such as employer specific requirements for vendors to come onsite to conduct a business activity.  Nevertheless, this article does provide a framework of the benefits for onsite hearing test and how to make sure the investment of doing so is protected.

Effective Time Management: Onsite Hearing Test

What is noise and how is it defined as an occupational hazard?  Noise is defined as a sound or sounds that are loud, unpleasant and undesired.  Noise is simply any unwanted sound.  It is a byproduct of industrial process such as operating machinery that either damages or destroys the nerves in the inner ear and is often overlooked as a hazardous condition.

Audiometric testing

The first step to combat noise hazard is to determine if it actually exists in the workplace.  This is accomplished by conducting a noise survey.   A noise survey is conducted in areas where noise exposure is likely to be hazardous. Furthermore,a comprehensive noise survey will provide the employer with the information they need to either control hazardous occupational noise exposure or to rest easy knowing that their workplace noise levels are within, below legal requirements that require additional tasks such as audiometric testing.  The only way to demonstrate that a workplace is safe from a noise hazard would be to complete an occupational noise assessment.

By completing workplace noise testing,the employer has taken the first (and largest) step towards reducing the risk to their business that hazardous occupational noise provides.

The remaining portion of this article will be contributed to onsite hearing test.  This hearing test is often referred to as the audiometric test.  The test is a requirement for the employer to incorporate into their business schedule as well as the monitoring program once noise levels have been determined through the noise survey that it does exceed beyond regulatory requirements.

How often does a hearing test need to be conducted?  The answer is once every 2 years or more frequently if employees are exposed to higher levels of hazardous noise.

If, as an employer you issue hearing protection to your employees, then the WHS/OHS Act/Regulations in your state requires an employer to submitted its employees for audiometric testing.

Coordinating employees to participate in audiometric testing can be an exhausting effort when the testing is to be conducted outside the workplace.  Too many factors; such as no transportation, personal schedules after work, etc., hinder on the success of having employees conduct a work assignment off site within a specific time period.  Therefore, onsite hearing testing is an alternative to consider to resolve this problem.

Onsite hearing testing is conducted via a mobile unit of which can be scheduled during operational activities on the day, or multiple days of the testing to minimize any business disruption to the normal work day routine.  Having hearing tests conducted at your work place helps you to minimize interruption to daily work assignments such as production and or construction activities.

As part of providing onsite testing, vendors will include as part of their service a complete summary of test results, an analysis of employees tests (with previous results) and all relevant documentation for the jurisdictional legal authorities. Another huge asset for the employer is that the required education altraining material will also be provided to each employee about hearing loss during their onsite scheduled test.  In other words, the burden of scheduling and conducting employee training is managed at the same time of testing instead of on two separate occasions.

Onsite audiometric testing is an effective time management tool for employers to consider.  It eliminates any concern of the required information and documentation needed for regulatory purposes, for the individuals who conduct the testing are well qualified in the subject matter.

The Purpose and Scope of a Noise Survey

Did you know that noise induced hearing loss is a common overlooked occupational hazard to workers?  Did you know that hearing loss is slow and painless; you can develop the disability before you notice it?  Did you know that noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable?

Noise Survey

Everywhere you are, there is noise.  Specifically speaking, occupational noise is most frequently present above the allowable exposure limits; refer to your local jurisdiction, at construction sites and most general industry workplaces.

What is noise?  How is noise defined?  Noise is defined as a sound or sounds that is, loud, unpleasant and undesired.  Noise is a byproduct of industrial process such as operating machinery.  Noise induced hearing loss occurs from overexposure to loud sound.Noise has the potential of causing both auditory and non-auditory health effects, if not controlled properly. Remember, there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss.  This is why conducting a noise survey is necessary at all worksites and should be taken seriously by the employer.  This article will further discuss the importance of conducting a noise survey and how to conduct one.

Audiometric testing

The first step to protect employee hearing is to determine whether or not noise is a potential problem in your workplace. This is accomplished by conducting a noise survey.  A noise survey can be defined as the exploration and understanding of a noise problem that is in question. .  A noise survey is conducted in areas where noise exposure is likely to be hazardous. Furthermore, noise survey is a process which allows the employer to measure, assess and reduce increased, unexpected levels of noise in the workplace.

During a noise survey, a sketch showing the locations of employees and noisy machines is drawn.  A noise survey involves measuring noise level at selected, specific locations throughout an entire plant.  Or, a noise survey may only select a few area of the plant to identify noisy areas.  The reference to noise level refers to the level of sound.

A noise survey is usually conducted with a sound level meter, also known as (SLM).  If the workplace noise remains steady, noise survey data can be used to determine employee exposures. The use of an SLM, helps produce a noise map of the areas within the workplace.

Noise assessment

Noise level measurements are taken at a suitable number of various positions around the area and are marked on the sketch. The more measurements taken during the survey, the more accurate the survey will be.  A noise map can be on the sketch.  Noise survey maps are extremely useful communication tools by clearly identifying areas where a noise hazard exists.

There are five general objectives of the occupational workplace noise survey.  They are as follows:

  1. Identify all significant noise sources and employees likely to be exposed to noise above specified levels (noise exposure standards);
  2. Obtain information on noise sources and work practices that will help the employer decide what measures are to be taken to reduce noise levels in the workplace;
  3. Validate the effectiveness of measures taken by the employer to reduce unwanted noise exposure.  Establish a baseline of assessment results and determine a schedule for future noise assessments to be conducted.The reassessment schedule will be determined by jurisdictional requirements or as described in the employer hearing protection program. Also, it is important to note that a reassessment is to be conducted whenever the following changes occur at the worksite;
  • Installation of new equipment.
  • Removal of existing equipment in the workplace.
  • A change in equipment operating conditions likely to cause a significant change in noise levels, such as increase in equipment speed.
  • A reconfiguration of the building structure that is likely to affect noise levels in a negative way such as taking down a wall that separated equipment operation with non- equipment operation area.
  • Modification of employee working assignments affecting the length of time the employees would spend in noisy workplaces.
  1. Establish hearing protection areas within the workplace. This could include a noise map of the designated areas within the workplace;
  2. Develop a priority assessment to eliminate or reduce sound levels that contribute significantly to the overall daily exposure.

Types of common noise sources in the workplace that the noise survey will identify include:

  • Electric Motors – Air turbulence around intake for cooling fan and mechanical vibration.
  • Pipelines and valves – Vibration from fixed equipment.
  • Equipment Housing – Vibration by transmission of equipment.
  • Stationary power tools– Noisy activities on construction sites include the use of jackhammers, dump trucks, cement mixers, cement cutters, electric saws.
  • Welding and Grinding activities – Grinding noise has been recorded at 103dB, at 5m from the activity.

A noise surveymay be simple or quite complex to conduct.  The difference between simple and complexity depends on the type of workplace, the number of employees, the number and types of equipment as well as information that may already be available, if any, regarding workplace noise exposure levels.

After determining employee exposure to noise, intervention may be needed to reduce noise exposures to the acceptable, allowable levels as described by local jurisdiction.  There are three ways to reduce unacceptable noise exposure, which are in the order of preference:

  • Engineering Controls that reduce noise at the source. Another example of an engineering control method is to reduce reverberation and structural vibration.

When engineering controls are not feasible to reduce noise exposures, administrative controls and PPE should be effectively implemented.

  • Administrative Controls such as employee rotation in high noise areas, report noisy equipment to supervision and place noise specifications on operating equipment.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hearing protectors such as earplugs or ear muffs.

In conclusion, take control of the noise hazards that are present in your workplace.  Understanding and taking control of your noise monitoring strategy is the only way to ensure that you protect the future hearing capabilities of your employees.  Conduct a noise survey, establish the objectives of a hearing protection program and set the parameters so that the data collected and calculated by the noise surveywill help establish a safer workplace for your employees.

If it is determined that employees within the organisation are exposed to hazardous levels of noise and the organisation issues hearing protection to its employees, then it is mandatory for the employers to submit its employees to undergo hearing test at least once every 2 years.