Implementing An Audiometric Screening Procedure
If your staff regularly work with loud machinery or in an environment with excessive background noise, it’s important for you to have an audiometric screening procedure in place. This audiometric screening procedure must be designed to protect the hearing of all members of your staff and should enable you to take preventative measures before long term damage has been done. Ideally, your staff should be regularly tested (annually) as this will enable you, as an employer, to ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to protect your employees health. But simply having an audiometric screening procedure in place may not be enough on it’s own. In this article we’ll discuss exactly what audiometry is, why we carry out audiometric testing, how audiometric testing is performed and much more.
Audiometry is a way of testing for hearing loss commonly used within various industrial business sectors. An audiometry test will help pin point how well your hearing is currently functioning.
The test itself is designed to test the intensity and tone of sounds, any balance issues with your hearing as well as any other issues that may become apparent with your inner ear. The test will be conducted by an audiometric testing specialist, or audiologist, who will be able to interpret the results and diagnose any highlighted issues as well as setting out a treatment programme and recommending further preventative measures that you, as an employer, will need to take.
When conducting the test, the audiologist will be measuring sound intensity in decibels (dB). A normal, healthy human ear is capable of hearing quiet, low frequency sounds of about 20 dB, such as a whisper. For comparison, a jet engine produces approximately 140 to 180 dB of noise.
The test also measures the sound tone in ‘cycles per second’. The unit of measure is referred to as Hertz (Hz). The human ear is capable of detecting noises ranging from 20 – 20,000 Hz, but human speech generally ranges from 500 – 3,000 Hz.
Typically, an audiometric test will be performed in an effort to determine the level of an individuals hearing and will be conducted as part of routine screening or if an individual has experienced a sudden and noticeable drop in hearing level. There are many reasons why an individuals hearing levels may begin to drop. The most common reasons are:
ear infections injury ruptured eardrum birth defects regular exposure to excessive or loud noise
Continued or prolonged exposure to excessive noise is the most common form of workplace hearing loss. And sound louder than 85dB could cause hearing loss after only a few hours of exposure. For comparison, 85dB is roughly comparable to the noise levels generated at most live music events. This is why it’s expected that any person working within an industry with a high level of environmental, background or machine driven noise wears their provided hearing protection at all times. Typically this would be a set of head phones or ear plugs provided by your employer.
As an audiometric test is a noninvasive test, there is currently no risk attached to this kind of screening. There is also no special preparation required from any individual undertaking audiometric testing. The individual is simply required to show up for their test on time and follow all given instructions. For this reason, businesses have no excuse not to conduct regular audiometric screening on any member of staff who’s hearing may be affected by their job role. The test can be conducted fairly inexpensively by most third party audiometric testing services and the individual is only required for a short period of time. In fact, most providers will be able to conduct these tests at your premises, allowing you to keep disruption to your business to a minimum.
Audiometric testing consists of several tests. One of these is what’s known as a ‘pure tone test’. A pure tone test is used to measure the quietest sound an individual can hear at multiple pitches. Tis test typically involves the use of an audiometer. An audiometer is the machine that is used to play these sounds via headphones worn by the individual. The audiologist will play various sounds at different intervals into one ear at a time. This is to determine the range of an individuals hearing. The audiologist will ask that you notify them when you the sound becomes audible, by raising your hand or signalling in another way.
There will also have another hearing test which is designed to assess an individual’s ability to hear distinguish speech from a background noise. Again, the individual will listen to a sample of sound and will be asked to repeat the words that they can hear. The ability to pick out spoken words from background noise is extremely helpful when diagnosing potential hearing loss and is extremely important for any individual who works in an environment with excessive or continuous background noise levels.
Finally, the audiologist may also use a tuning fork in an effort to see how well you detect vibrations through your ears. To do this, the audiologist will press the tuning fork against the bone behind an individuals ear or use a bone oscillator to determine how well vibrations pass through the mastoid bone into the inner ear. These test do not typically cause any pain or discomfort for the individual being tested and usually won’t take more than an hour to complete.
Once the audiologist has completed the audiometric test, they will review the results and their findings with the individual. The next steps are entirely dependant on your results but the doctor will inform you of any preventative measures that are required. If the audiometric test was conducted as part of a workplace audiometric screening procedure, then this information will also be relayed to your employer to enable them to put the recommended steps into place.