Eight Tips for Hearing Testing Day

Eight Tips for Hearing Testing Day

There’s no official checklist or cheat sheet to make sure hearing testing is an effortless experience—some things come with experience and time.

Your annual hearing testing is around the corner, and you are working hard to ensure this integral part of your hearing conservation program is successful.

There are various ways of ensuring you are in compliance. Offsite clinic visits, your onsite nurse or a mobile hearing testing partner that visits your site are several examples of testing that are available. While there are pros and cons to each, they all ensure the hearing of your workforce is protected and safe.

While the OSHA standard on occupational noise exposure is your guide for compliance, there’s no official checklist or cheat sheet to make sure hearing testing is an effortless experience for you and your team. Some things only come with experience and time. Here is a list of ideas, tips and advice compiled to help you prepare for an organized and efficient testing process.

Scheduling is Key

It all starts with scheduling. This is key, as hearing testing is an annual event. Compliance testing can approach rapidly and you want to be ready. It’s never too soon to think about and start to schedule your testing. Give yourself plenty of time—you want to be fully scheduled a month before your testing date. Use technology to stay organized. Once you have a date on the calendar, set reminders on your laptop or phone. Creating a project through a productivity tool is also a helpful method to stay on track.

Just like anything else, it’s all about preparation when it comes to success for a smooth operation. If you are working with a mobile testing partner that will come onsite, know the details beforehand, such as the number of employees to be tested, individual employee needs, flow rates and logistical requirements. When using a clinic, stagger the clinic visits across time to ensure your workers have shifts covered and production still runs smoothly on the site.

The key to success? Finding a partner that communicates with you. You want to understand all that is required of you and your workforce: a month out, a week out and the day before testing. Having someone you can rely on to guide you during this process is a benefit to all safety managers.

Limit Exposure Before Testing Day

Ideally, your employees are treating every day like testing day by limiting their exposure to loud noises with the use of protective equipment or through distancing. We all know that this is not the reality.

However, when it comes to the day before testing, limiting noise exposure becomes necessary. In fact, controlling occupational noise exposure 14 hours before testing is required by OSHA for anyone undergoing their baseline test.

It’s strongly encouraged for all employees to avoid activities that involve loud or excessive noise such motorcycling, setting off fireworks, shooting guns or attending concerts without the use of hearing protection the day, or days, leading to hearing testing day.

Time of Testing During Your Shift

Hearing testing should be conducted throughout an employee’s work shift. As such, it’s imperative to arrange testing later in the work schedule, rather than earlier. A test later in a work shift is the best way to assess how well the hearing protection portion of the hearing conservation program is working. If hearing protection is working as it should, an employee should be able to be tested at any point during the work shift while showing no hearing shift.

Bring Hearing Protection to the Test…

Employees should always bring their hearing protection—whether foam earplugs, earmuffs or other types of protection—to the testing location. When you are working with a mobile testing compliance partner, they should mention this as a reminder to tell your employees. If doing this yourself or sending employees to a clinic, ensure this step is followed. This allows the technician to verify whether your employees are correctly using the protection they wear, as poorly fitting equipment is a major cause of inadequate protection and hearing damage.

…But Don’t Wear it During the Test

Anything that has been inserted into the ear canal must be removed before taking the hearing test. While this may seem like an obvious and unnecessary piece of advice, too often employees go in for testing with disposable foam hearing protection wedged in their ear.

The same is true for anyone wearing hearing aids, as they must be removed during testing. While those with hearing aids may fear they have a disadvantage during the test, this is simply not the case. The purpose of the annual hearing test is to determine if an employee’s hearing has worsened. Wearing a hearing aid during the test will prevent an accurate measurement of hearing change. Take special care and consideration of these employees when it comes to testing.

Doctor’s Orders

If an employee has a note from a physician stating they are currently under medical care for an ear problem, they still need to be tested if they are in your hearing conservation program. Often times a medical problem will not result in a hearing shift. Unless the ear is painful to the touch or has active drainage, you are encouraged to have the employees tested.

It’s important to note that hearing protection, or the lack thereof, can cause serious medical issues. For instance, a medical professional may recommend that an employee not use hearing protection or that they need to wear hearing protection at all times at work for various medical reasons. If either of these are truly medical necessities, then the employee cannot work in noise and will need to be otherwise accommodated and the situation will need to be further evaluated.

Additionally, be aware of your claustrophobic and anxious employees before the testing process when sound booths or other smaller spaces are involved. The employee may need to be tested alone so that the technician can allow brief breaks during the session. If possible, schedule these employees at the end of the test day or before a test break to allow for a longer test time, if needed. If a claustrophobic employee cannot tolerate testing in a sound booth, make sure to schedule other arrangements.

Testing Follow Up

Once testing is completed, you will probably have questions or concerns about the test results. Audiologists dedicated to occupational hearing loss prevention bring the expertise and knowledge to help understand and analyze test results. These professionals have a thorough understanding of the inner working of the ear, expert knowledge of noise and noise management related to industrial hygiene, as well as ear diseases and the severe impact of hearing loss. The audiologist should be able to perform work-related evaluations, investigations that confirm hearing shifts and determine if it was a professional or personal incident.

Additionally, data management is another essential part of testing follow up. By analyzing your hearing testing data, you can uncover potential hazards as well as highlight and pursue areas of success. Make sure you have a platform that easily allows you to gain insights into your Hearing Conservation Program, report your results and plan for the future. After all, it’s not just about checking the box on annual hearing testing—it’s about the long-term safety and health of your team.

In the Age of COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for industrial sanitation has never been more important. In attempts to reduce the virus transmission, make sure you or your testing partner are closely adhering to CDC and OSHA guidelines and regulations.

Sanitation and distancing are essential with hearing testing. Sanitizing all contact surfaces between use is an important safety step to be taken to reduce the risk of virus spread. Other steps include adding partitions between testing and training spaces and adding air purifiers to all gathering spaces.

Moreover, temperature checks should be a requirement before testing, and face masks should be worn by all testing staff and employee participants. Studies have shown that when both parties wear a mask, the spread of the virus is significantly reduced. Test administrators should also wear masks, gloves and even full-body protective covering. The goal is to allow you to continue with compliance testing while keeping employees and testers as safe as possible from viral infection.

Treat Every Day Like it is Hearing Testing Day

When it comes to hearing protection, your employees should treat every day like hearing testing day. Consistent and careful use of hearing protection, as well as proper training and monitoring, should be a daily occurrence on the job. Too often, hearing protection usage increases right before hearing testing occurs. This occurrence doesn’t accurately represent your workforce’s typical hearing practice, and can result in damaged hearing health if the pattern continues.

More importantly, protecting ear and hearing health prevents a host of other physical and mental health complications, such as poor balance, impaired memory, increased blood pressure, depression, social withdrawal and anxiety. Behaving as if every day is hearing testing day keeps everyone safe.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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