Who should provide audiometry for Agency staff?

Our beloved Noise Regs require health surveillance (audiometry) to be provided for people who are identified as being at risk from noise exposures at work, but what about Agency staff where the individuals are not directly employed by the company operating the site?

Over the years I have come across several Agencies trying to pass the requirement for providing (and therefore paying for) audiometric tests for the individuals the Agency provides to the host employer operating the site. Let's be clear from the off on this:

It is the responsibility of the individual's employer to provide the necessary hearing tests, and for an Agency this is the AGENCY and not the host employer. The Agency is the employer.

I had to look into this in detail a few years ago when I came across an employer who had around 25 employees working in a high noise area but over the course of a year had in excess of 400 agency staff working in there. They were not there all at once as the Agency was contracted to provide a set number of staff but there was a very regular churn in the specific individuals sent to the site. The Agency were insisting the host employer was responsible for providing the hearing tests and audiometry programme but the difference between 25 and 400 was a massive financial impact, about £625 a year for just 25 people, or around £10,000 if all 400 Agency staff were included as well.

This is covered in the HSE's L108, Controlling Noise at Work:

People who are not your employees

Sometimes your activities may cause employees of other employers to be exposed to noise, e.g. where contractors take noisy tools into quiet premises to do their job, or they go to do a quiet job in premises that are already noisy. Regulation 3(2) places duties on all the employers involved and each will have a responsibility:

(a)  to their own employees; and
(b) so far as is reasonably practicable, to any other person at work who is affected by the work they do.

This responsibility applies to all the duties under the Noise Regulations except health surveillance (regulation 9), which you do not have to provide for anyone other than your own employees, while you only need to provide information, instruction and training (regulation 10) to the employees of others in relation to the specific job they are doing for you.

Where contractors and sub-contractors are involved it is usually best for responsibilities to be set out in the contractual arrangements. 

As the host employer you do still need to have a risk assessment in place and train and inform the Agency staff on the noise risks present, but the Agency remains the 'employer' for the staff they provide and responsibility for providing audiometric tests for those people rests with them.