How long should a hearing test take?

I have come across anecdotal reports of some companies getting people in and out inside of five minutes, and in and out of the booth in only three minutes. To be totally unambiguous about this - you cannot do a compliant audiometric test that fast and for some of the screening companies to hit the kinds of times I am told about, short-cutting it is the only way. This is the reasoning why:

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What is the impact of GDPR on audiometric testing at work?

On the surface there are contradictory obligations on the employer arising in the Noise Regs and in GDPR, where some obligations placed on the employer by the Noise Regs could possibly be prevented from being done via GDPR, but there are elements within each set of rules which provide a route through it.

It should be stated from the off that GDPR does make allowances for data which is gathered for compliance with other regulations, meaning there is no prohibition on gathering data for occupational health screening purposes, but it does add extra provisions to that data gathering, most notably by restricting the obtaining and retention of data which is not necessary.

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Can employers have access to audiometric testing data?

Is it medical data and subject to full medical confidentiality, or is it a lesser standard of workplace safety data, or something between? It doesn't help that external audiometry service providers have several different approaches, and not all the reasons for their approaches are to do with confidentially and often can be just about locking a client in to them and making it hard for them to go elsewhere.

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How do we decide on referrals in our audiometric tests?

Referrals generally come up in Category 3 and Category 4 cases, or possibly in unilateral results. Unnecessary referral is not only a sign of shabby service and a screening technician who is frankly doing little more than a trained monkey could do, but it also causes the employer needlessly increased costs and the attendee pointless worry and wasted time. The goal in our screening is tow-fold. Firstly to confirm that the noise safety programme in the workplace is working sufficiently well, and secondly to identify the cases where the employee has a potential issue and flag those up so the employer knows what is needed from them. We introduced our own system of ‘informal' and ‘formal’ referrals so we could filter attendees into three groups for the employer and help them focus just on the people they need to.

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Signs of poor workplace audiometric testing

Hearing testing at work is important as it is the fall-back which ensures people are being kept safe and not harmed by noise risks. Poor hearing has such a terrible impact on every element of a sufferer's life that the effects cannot be understated, but all too often I've seen audiometry done so woefully done the provider should be thoroughly ashamed of it, and this applies equally to the big boys as well as the small ones. These are some of the things to watch out for in a provider.

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What do the hearing test results categories mean?

All workplace audiometric tests are assigned one of four categories, with the definition of these categories and how to calculate them being given in L108 which is the source of the standards. One important principle is that categories of audiometry result are relative and move, they are not fixed. What I mean by this is that when assessing someone's result the comparison is made against the expected standard of hearing for their age, not against a fixed point.

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Who should be included in audiometric tests at work?

The requirement is that if you have anyone who is routinely exposed to noise levels averaging over 85dB(A) then the employer needs to implement a programme of health surveillance, meaning audiometry. Everyone working in a higher noise environment should be included, but that word 'routinely' is important as it means some others may or may not need to be included.

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Audiometry and transgender people

In any audiometry done for health screening purposes, a basic part of the test is the categorisation of the result, which is done against expected standard for that person's age and gender. Women generally have better hearing than men, a difference which widens with age. This means assessing a man against a the standard for a woman could register as a problem whereas for male standards it is perfectly fine, so how should a technician manage someone who has changed their identified gender?

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