How often should audiometry be repeated at work?

The HSE via their L108 bible are suitably vague on this, stating that the first two years should be annual 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.

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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 we 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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Managing referrals in audiometric tests

Referrals generally come up in Category 3 and Category 4 cases, or possibly in Cat 1 and 2 unilateral results. How these are dealt with is a very important and is useful tool for distinguishing between the good service providers who clearly have a bit of knowledge and are looking at each result individually, and those who are simply pressing a 'go' button then saying little more than 'computer says fail, referral' if a Category 3 or Category 4 result comes up.

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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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Can employers see audiometric testing results?

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 can often be just about locking a client in to them by making it hard for them to go elsewhere.

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Audiometry for people with hearing aids or deaf

The phrase ‘deaf’ when used in everyday language covers a huge range of hearing abilities, going from people who are a bit weak for their age through to people with no hearing at all. It is VERY common, and something which happens a few times every week in the people we are testing, that someone comes into the audiometry unit and says they are ‘deaf’ but then when tested their hearing is not that bad at all, just not quite as good as it should be for their age..

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Benefits of technicians versus self-operated tablet audiometry

There are number of these system-in-a-box hearing testing service on the market now and to be unambiguous: These do not provide standards-compliant audiometric testing at work.

There are many providers of audiometric tests at work who will send a technician to your site to conduct the hearing tests and any of these will give you more compliant results than any self-operated audiometry system. While we would like you to choose us, any competitor who sends an experienced and trained technician to your site will give more compliant audiometric tests than a self-operated tablet-based system.

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Can hearing tests be done at a desk in an office?

One option for doing hearing tests is to do them at a desk in an office or meeting room, but is it a good way to do them? This is pretty straight forwards to answer: No. It’s cheaper and easier for the company supplying the audiometry to provide as it needs much less investment in equipment, but at best it is no better for the client than testing in a proper mobile unit, while in most cases is a worse option for the client.

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How should companies store audiometric testing data?

As clients receive all the data from us, it is important that client companies have a good system for holding and storing the data arising from the audiometry process. GDPR has had little impact on how a company should be setting up workplace audiometric testing programmes and the requirements on the employer remain pretty much as they always have been.

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GDPR and audiometry 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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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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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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