What defines audiometric testing (a hearing test) that is WHS and WorkCover compliant?
A robust hearing testing and reporting regime contains the following:
pre and post calibration of the onsite test environment with a Class 1 sound level meter (documents background noise levels at time of testing)
a large sound-booth that correctly attenuates ambient noise levels
a sound-treated room that further attenuates on-site noise
equipment that is calibrated and comes with a NATA approved calibration certificate
reporting and validation software that calculates Pure Tone Audiometry (PTA) results against National Acoustic Laboratory formulae and allowances made within state Work Health and Safety and WorkCover regulations
otoscopic exam and documented results to document subjective factors that might affect PTA results on the day
clinical history that documents other sources of noise exposure (eg recreational activities)
PPE verification and safety suitability check
instruction in fitting and use of personal hearing protectors
manually conducted PTA
removal of testing headset and pausing between test and retest
retesting at higher frequencies defined in the Australian Standard 1269:4 (2014)
reporting that meets the Safe Work Australia guide to managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work (which all WHS regulations are based on)
Hearing @ Work’s hearing assessment methodology meets all of the above criteria and you can be confident that all employer obligations, regulatory compliance and codes of practice can be adhered to through our quality processes.
What is involved with a hearing screening test?WHS and WorkCover compliant?
We conduct hearing tests using the latest Pure Tone Audiometer and digital reporting software. Our custom built mobile service unit is acoustically treated as well as being fitted with a sound insulated booth. A series of test tones are presented to determine Hearing Threshold Levels. After a brief pause, headphones are then reseated for certain frequencies to be retested. The Hearing Threshold Levels are then recorded and graphed in an audiogram.
We generate global reports that summarise your workforce hearing data at a glance- including individual profiles that indicate percentage hearing loss (if any), compensable losses and recommendations for each individual tested. Reports are available in PDF, text or excel ready formats. All data is encrypted and backed up locally and via cloud storage services.
How long does audiometry testing take?
Before audiometers and acoustic booths, medical practioners used the whine of tuning forks held adjacent to the ear and then pressed against the temple to assess a person’s hearing. This 30 second test is remarkably accurate in identifying conductive vs sensoneural hearing loss and is in use by Ear Nose and Throat surgeons to this day.
Currently being trialled in europe is a canal-inserted device which uses electro-acoustic-biofeedback mechanisms to give an instantaneous and objective reading of hearing thresholds whilst standing in an open office- again, without the need for audiometric testing apparatus as we know it.
However, both of these methods are not what current International and Australian Standards are based on- until standards change, the current Pure Tone Audiometry method remains as a comparative tool.
Unfortunately due to cutting corners by on-the-fly operators in the industry there is misguided expectation that an audiometry test takes “five to ten minutes”. Even for experienced operators, it is not possible to complete a test and restest to standards outlined in AS/NZS 1269:4 2014 in under 10 minutes for every staff candidate presented. Consistent, accurate and standards compliant audiometric testing is a refined art not a mechanical or automated process.
On average, a hearing screening takes around 12 minutes. We’ve found a better response from staff if screenings are conducted in a timely and professional fashion, and we take the opportunity to include one-to-one toolbox talks on working safely in noise, a hearing PPE check and instructions in use, care and maintenance of personal hearing protectors. This is included in a 20 minute session, and discharges employer obligations under the National Code of Practice for Noise Management and Protection of Hearing at Work, Worksafe Codes of Practice on Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work and WHS Regulations on Personal Protective Equipment.
What about free hearing tests?
Audiology clinics are able to offer free hearing tests to eligible concession card holders, but as with GP’s or medical clinics, these screenings are not free for employers requiring an employee to undergo audiometric testing for WHS compliance purposes. Audiometric testing is a fee-for-service booking.
We believe our primary role is to provide occupational health suvelliance and preventative health programs that are of mutual benefit to employee safety and employers bottom line.
How often do staff need to be tested?
Under harmonised WHS regulations throughout Australia (except WA), all staff and contractors working in noise exposed environments need to have their hearing tested within 3 months of commencing employment. Noise exposed is defined as continuous background noise levels over 85 decibels for an 8 hr equivelant.
Routine monitoring- hearing tests at least every two years, are also needed to be carried out to remain in compliance.
The Pure Tone Audiometry tests we conduct use global standards that validate a person’s ability to hear within normal conversational range. Particular attention is paid to higher and inter-octave frequencies that illustrate whether Hearing Threshold Levels are abnormal or not.
Regular hearing tests for noise exposed workers are an important health and safety habit. Identifying any problems early ensures remedial action can be taken.
What is an ideal testing environment?
We have heard of some shocking and breathtakingly clumsy practices out there: such as the siting of audiometric testing adjacent to noisy roads, near noisy medical waiting rooms or in shopping centres; or using untrained staff to set up automated programs who then walk out of the room. It’s very unlikely these types of testing environments meet the Australian Standards.
At Hearing @ Work, we use an audiometric booth inside an acoustically treated truck and calibrate our test environment on location to ensure it falls well under prescribed background noise levels.
Can results be faked?
This is where experience goes a very long way!
Very occasionally, candidates will present false positives or fail to respond to appropriate stimuli during testing. Sometimes there is good reason for this (we will interrupt the test to confirm). But if the results do not match the client’s real-world communication abilities, then a further battery of tests can be carried out by a clinical audiologist- eg bone conduction, speech in noise testing, otoacoustic emissions and reflex testing can provide additional objective data.
Despite the rare exceptions above, we find that people are happy to be competently tested and are quite keen to know the status of their hearing health.
What happens if tests show a hearing loss?
Chances are, that person’s auditory processing system has adapted and they are already coping with it. The point is to stop any further loss.
A moderate to profound hearing loss can be frustrating and debilitating for most people. Hearing aids are expensive. Hearing protection is not.
Custom Hearing Protection
What is custom hearing protection?
Hearing protectors- plugs- made with moulding materials inserted into the canal can be customised to fit the wearers ear shape- making for an extremely comfortable fit.
It differs from the ‘one shape fits all’ of foam disposable plugs or over-the-head earmuffs as our plugs are significantly more durable, easier to clean and can be modified with miniature valves to attenuate background noise levels by up to 34dB (a Class 5 rating certified by the National Acoustics Laboratory in Australia).
What is the difference between different custom moulded hearing protectors that are on offer?
There are different grades of silicone quality and different manufacturing processes.
For our benchmark plug, our manufacturer uses dental grade acrylic and hand casting and crafting methods- and for good reason. The finish, durability and wearer comfort is top shelf.
We can cite you people who have been happily wearing our custom plugs 5, 10 and 15 years or more.
What are the benefits in having custom hearing protector program?
Our cost-benefit calculator will show that over a period of years, the spend on disposable ear plugs will significantly overrun the cost of custom moulded hearing plugs. (To request a copy of this calculator, just complete our web enquiry form).
Disposable ear plugs are easily lost, easily dirtied but more importantly easily misfitted- giving the wearer a false sense of security.
Custom plugs eliminate many of these problems, but have in-built safety redundancy-they won’t seat, unless fitted correctly. In other words, the wearer is unlikely to misfit their custom plugs. High user acceptance with our plugs ensures maximum compliance.
How does your custom plug improve on others on the market?
Our best selling, benchmark industrial noise plugs are from Ear-O-Tec with a production laboratory here in Australia. For decades they have been making extremely durable, low maintenance, long life plugs for the mining, manufacturing and other noise intensive industries.
The filter keeps damaging high-frequency machinery noise out, making it easier to communicate in noise.
Each plug is serial numbered and a calibration and leak testing history is kept during its service life. This testing confirms the Class 5 hearing protection status of the custom plugs and is recommended to be done annually.
Can anyone have custom moulded protection?
Human bodies differ in size and shape, this includes ears.
Some conditions- narrow canals, previous ear surgery or medical symptoms- preclude the ability to make and wear custom plugs. We can readily ascertain suitability for plugs with a quick otoscopic examination.
Why should you do a noise assessment?
A noise assessment is a report of acoustic data compiled and interpreted to allow HSE Managers to identify tasks or work processes that expose employees to noise over 85db(A) over an 8 hr equivalent shift. It is an important risk assessment tool for your worksite.
Noise assessments give you and regulatory authorities the confidence that baseline data has been collated and quantified. Without it, actual noise levels could become open to interpretation and complication at the workplace.
A zero harm policy can be effectively administered without knowing what the safety risks are in a given task.
How often should a noise assessment be done?
It is recommended to do a workshop wide noise assessment every 5 years, but it is compulsory to carry one out every time new plant or equipment is installed on-site.
Manufacturers too must supply a certificate stating the noise output of supplied plant. This has been compulsory for all suppliers of plant and equipment under harmonised WHS legislation for some time.
What's the usefulness of a noise assessment?
A noise assessment provides baseline data which shows which tasks or jobs may need to be rotated to prevent noise over-exposure if excessive levels of noise are measured. It also provides a guideline to what class of hearing protectors are required.
Quite often a role or task requires one employee to communicate to another in noise. With noise assessment data, you can provide frequency analysis and other import acoustic data that allows you to select the right communication-in-noise solution for members of your team who may need such specialised PPE.
What equipment is used by Hearing @ Work?
We use calibrated scientific instrumentation from Bruel & Kajer - a global leader in Sound and Vibration analysis.
We simultaneously take A Level readings and C Level readings at appropriate points around a worksite. A-Level readings are needed to calculate continuos, peak, and average noise exposure dosage. A-level settings apply electronic filters during sound capture which mimic the responses of the human ear.
C Level readings assist with guiding what level of hearing protection is required at any location within a worksite- for example, areas of factory can be accurately mandated to have hearing PPE prior to entry, or time limits to tasks mandated if noise is particularly excessive eg in a confined environment.