How often are hearing tests needed for screening?
The HSE via their L108 bible are suitably vague on this, stating what the first two years should be but then being a little woolly after that other than to say 'regular' and 'no more than three years'. There is however a well-established standard practice for the testing frequency which is:
Year 1 (the first test for anyone).
You do their first hearing test to get the baseline - this is the initial test which is compared to the expected standards for their age but which is also then used for the comparison in future tests to identify changes. If you have never done tests before this will be the first year of your screening programme, otherwise will be the first time a new employee is examined.
Year 2 (the second test)
This hearing test is done one year after the first test. This test is compared to both the expected results for their age and gender but also to the previous year's audiometric test result to ensure the hearing is not deteriorating.
From now on the audiometry re-test frequency depends on the category of result:
- Category 1 - Every three years
- Category 2 - Every two years
- Category 3 - Every year
- Category 4 - Every year
So there you have it. This is not law as such but is good practice and is what people like insurers and the HSE expect to see.
Variations in frequency of screening audiometry
As the schedule above is not specified in law, employers do have some room for altering it, providing it is not putting people at risk. In practice, this usually means larger employers follow the schedule above as they are expected to put more resources to meeting it, while smaller ones do often vary it a bit to balance the risk against their costs - that old 'reasonably practicable' judgement again.
For example, if an employer has 100 employees and does a series of hearing tests, it is reasonable that after the second year they may have 75 employees who are Category 1, 15 employees who are Category 2, six employees who are Category 3 and four who are Category 4. This would mean that the following year they only have ten employees who need testing. Most service providers charge by the day which can make doing just ten tests quite expensive. One alternative pattern I have seen in use therefore was:
- Year 1: Everyone
- Year 2: Everyone
- Then all Cat 2, 3 and 4 people and new people in 18 months
- Then everyone again 18 months after that
In this pattern the Cat 2 people are done slightly early, and the Cat 3 and 4 people slightly late, but not drastically so, and bundled together makes it more cost-effective. This one always seems pretty sensible to me for smaller employers.
Hearing tests for new starters
Again these is usually a difference between the very large employers with an in-house occupational health department, and smaller employers. In all my years doing audiometry, pretty much all bar the very largest employers just bundled new starters into whatever was the next batch of tests coming due. If hearing protection is in place and noise awareness training provided this seems a perfectly reasonable approach and is a good balance of risk against cost - you aren't going to make someone deaf in the relatively short period until the next audiometry session is due.
Expiring results - don't let them get too old!
One thing to bear in mind is that audiometric test results do have an expiry date, beyond which the natural changes due to age are such that the older results are no longer viable for use as comparisons. This limit is three years so don't let the re-test frequency go beyond that or you have to start all over again at Year 1.