5 Ways to Improve Your Hearing Conservation Program
From on-demand testing to tele-health features, technology is enhancing hearing conservation programs and offering solutions tailored to today's hearing protection challenges.
- By Chad Coleman
- Nov 08, 2023
Many industries are being disrupted by technology. And if not disrupting legacy business, new technology is at least offering consumers, clients, and other end users new ways to do business.
The safety industry is no exception, as evidenced by the abundance of recent articles on tech, wearables, apps, and other hardware and software. Many safety managers and occupational nurses might not realize that technological evolution is coming to their hearing conservation program.
Portable tablet-based audiometers enable many improvements to hearing testing and training. When a company combines technology with customer service and knowledge about the Hearing Conservation Program, it offers a platform that addresses many of today’s challenges. These platforms offer the best of all your current hearing testing options, while adding some unique benefits. You can do on-demand testing after the mobile unit leaves for missed tests and retests or go completely DIY and take testing into your own hands.
Let’s highlight 5 ways that technology can improve your hearing conservation program.
The main benefit of using a tablet audiometer is that you can get all your employees tested — no more struggling to find a solution to test your entire employee population.
If you prefer a mobile unit to come onsite to do the heavy lifting and take all the work off your hands, then using a portable audiometer afterwards helps you test the “stragglers” — the people who missed testing while the mobile unit was onsite or those needing a retest. No more booking a follow-up visit for the van or sending your employees to an offsite clinic several towns away.
Many companies decide to take testing in-house, administering testing themselves without using a vendor. This means you can test whenever you want. You can test everybody on your chosen scheduling method, including new hires during the year.
There are two important benefits of both these methods:
- Your employees stay on site, which is a great benefit to your business productivity.
- You have more scheduling flexibility. As a busy safety professional, you need something that works for you. If you only have a small number of employees to test, no more waiting on a vendor to come to your facility who is booked up for the next several months. And if you have a larger program, on-demand testing lets you create a schedule using date of birth, date of hire, or whatever works for you.
Some tablet-based audiometers come as a complete solution. These solutions go beyond just the testing portion of your Hearing Conservation Program, with training integrated into the experience.
Section K of the OSHA standard on noise exposure requires that you train employees annually on a few things: the effects of noise on hearing, the purpose of hearing protectors, and the purpose of audiometric testing.
By using a solution with a training video included in the on-demand experience, you have one less thing to worry about. Like a Swiss army knife, you have several components of your program taken care of with one technology platform.
Tele-health is a new feature that many medical companies are embracing. It became popular during the Covid pandemic but has stuck around due to the convenience it offers.
Some tablet-based audiometers have incorporated this functionality into the on-demand experience. Tele-technicians can guide your employees through hearing testing in a video chat, even seeing what the employee is seeing on their screen, so that they can provide support and guidance as needed.
These features are designed thinking through the lens of compliance. Some scenarios require CAOHC-certified oversight. For example, this applies in Washington state, Oregon state, and companies governed by MSHA regulations. A tele-technician solution means you can have the convenience of a tablet audiometer even if you are missing the required certification.
Text to Speech
Another technology enhancement that benefits hearing testing is the use of text to speech functionality. This helps in several ways.
For one, audiologists know from experience that many people close their eyes when testing. Psychologically, we think we can hear better this way. With text to speech, you never have to worry when employees are alone in your testing room. With voice prompts, they get the alerts they need to move seamlessly though testing.
Additionally, many tablet-based audiometers offer the testing experience in multiple languages. With many workforces consisting of employees where English is not their native language, this helps create a better experience. You can reduce the problems of language barriers and the need for several translators.
Better Program Management
The last benefit, and maybe most important, is how you can manage your program better.
When performing on-demand testing, test results should flow seamlessly to your data management platform or client portal. This immediate data transfer means you know right away who needs a retest. And using the portable audiometer means you have the easiest way to do those retests.
Additionally, the ease of retesting leads to more accurate logging of recordable events. Why? Since you’ve eliminated the pain point of retests, it’s simple to take the next step of conducting a work-related evaluation if you have a confirmed shift in hearing.
Data around improvements in retesting when testing on-demand shows that when clients use a mobile unit for administering hearing testing, 46 percent of employees with a Standard Threshold Shift (STS) get a retest and 60 percent do a work-related evaluation (WRE) for further evaluation. In comparison, when an employer has access to a tablet-based audiometer for testing (whether in addition to the mobile unit or as a replacement), then 69 percent of employees with STS receive a retest and 73 percent do a work-related evaluation. That marks a 50 percent improvement in retesting and 20 percent improvement in WRE.
This helps employers keep employees safe, improve their hearing conservation program, and accurately log recordables. Technology not only brings improvements, convenience, and cost savings, but also more peace of mind with your program.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.