The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) require employers to reduce the risk of exposure to noise in the workplace for all employee which may be due to use of machinery, tools, weapons, or the environment. The legislation aims to reduce the exposure of workers to excessive noise which may cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus which may negatively impact upon an individual’s health and wellbeing. Employers must undertake a workplace risk assessment to assess the level of risk in the workplace, take action to reduce noise exposure and provide employees with personal hearing protection. Control measures which may be implemented include using quieter equipment, reducing the noise produced at source, the use of screens or enclosures and/or reducing the duration of exposure to noise/noisy areas.
Employers often designate areas of a workplace as ‘noisy environments’ and may use universal signage to advise staff of the need to comply with the wearing of hearing protection. Hearing protection should fit properly and be fitted prior to exposure to noise, training and supervision must be provided for staff.
Tinnitus.or.uk state that over a third (35%) of people believe their tinnitus was caused by loud noise exposure and only 1 in 4 people use hearing protection whilst being exposed to noise that is too loud.
Why do I need to undergo audiometry?
Depending upon the industry in which you work, the workplace risk assessment and method statement (RAMS), in relation to potential exposure to noise in the workplace i.e. damage to your hearing, it may be necessary for you to undergo periodic health surveillance known as audiometry. Audiometry is a health surveillance screening method used to identify the early signs of potential damage to hearing resulting from exposure to noise in the workplace. It enables the clinician to identify where noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), which typically occurs between 3000 – 6000Hz (3 - 6kHz), may have occurred and make necessary recommendations to your employer to prevent any further deterioration.
If you have been exposed to excessive noise prior to your audiometry you may experience a Temporary threshold shift (TTS) which is temporary hearing loss i.e. from a loud concert, shooting or working with machinery without hearing protection, in one or both ears, in these cases it will be necessary for us to repeat the audiometry in the near future to confirm your current hearing category.
Without my hearing aids I can’t hear anything, do I still need to undergo audiometry?
Where hearing aids are worn then audiology should still normally be undertaken, this is important to ensure that there have been no further changes within any of the relevant frequencies and to ensure that your current hearing protection, where worn, is still effective.
How often do I need to undertake audiometry?
Baseline audiometry should normally be undertaken within about 4 weeks of commencing within a role, depending upon the industry in which you work, and your audiometry results, reviews will then be undertaken at 1, 2 or 3 yearly.
What does audiometry involve?
Audiometry involves completion of a health questionnaire to ask about previous hearing related health issues and potential exposure to noise in the past followed by, where necessary, an examination of the ear canal using an otoscope. Our trained clinicians will then explain how the hearing test component of the assessment will be undertaken, this is normally undertaken in a quiet room in the workplace or if necessary, in a soundproof booth in one of our mobile occupational health units, which we may have brought to your workplace, or in one of our many clinics. You will need to wear a pair of specialist headphones connected to an audiometer which enable us to generate sounds of specific frequencies at gradually decreasing volume (amplitude) and test whether you are able to hear the sounds generated.
The clinician will note at which point you cannot hear the sound and once the test is complete compare this to previous records where they exist. Your results are compared to standardised results dependant upon your sex and your age, and your employer is advised of your results with appropriate guidance. The clinician will provide you with a record of your results to share with your GP as necessary.
Occupational health audiometry is not a diagnostic technique and where necessary you may be advised by our clinicians to seek further guidance from your GP.
You will be advised by the clinician about your relevant hearing category which are as follows:
Category 1 – acceptable hearing – no action needs to be taken, continue to wear your hearing protection as necessary.
Category 2 – mild hearing impairment – you will be provided guidance on the importance of wearing personal protective equipment to prevent any further deterioration in hearing ability.
Category 3 – poor hearing – you will be required to undergo repeat audiometry assessment (unless there is previous history of hearing issues), following this if your hearing remains Category 3 then you will be referred to speak with one of our Occupational Health Physicians (OHP) in line with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations guidance.
Category 4 – rapid hearing loss – you will be required to undergo a repeat audiometry assessment (unless there is previous history of hearing issues), following this if your hearing remains Category 4 then you will be referred to speak with one of our Occupational Health Physicians (OHP) in line with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations guidance.
Unilateral hearing loss (sometimes referred to as Category 5) – in these cases you will be referred to your GP to exclude potential causes of hearing loss and further investigation including diagnostic audiometry.
Do I have to engage with audiometry health surveillance (HS)?
Health surveillance is a legal requirement, employers and employees must comply with HS which may need to take place annually, if necessary. If you decide not to undergo health surveillance then your employer may need to withdraw you from any activities which may cause you harm.
Do I need to wear hearing protection?
Where the noise level is between 80dB(A) and 84dB(A) suitable hearing protection SHOULD be provided or made available for use if necessary. At noise levels of 85dB(A) or above then an employer MUST provide suitable hearing protection, you should only wear the hearing protection provided by your employer which is appropriate for the noise level which you are exposed to, over protection can be dangerous and prevent you being able to communicate with colleagues or hear necessary audible warnings. Any hearing protection should be marked with the relevant CE markings (anticipated to be UKCA markings following Brexit).
I have been advised I may have to undertake a functional assessment, what is this?
An audio functional assessment is where an employer ensures that an employee, with known hearing loss, can hear all necessary verbal warnings, fire alarms, vehicle reversing beeps or evacuation signals etc. You may b asked by your employer to sign to confirm that on the date assessed that you were able to do so.
Why have I been referred to the Occupational Health Advisor (OHA)?
Occasionally individuals may not be compliant with the wearing of hearing protection, be wearing in-ear or over-ear hearing aids which may cause issues with the wearing of the hearing protection provided, in these and similar cases a follow up consultation with an OHA, a nurse, may be of benefit to explore potential solutions to these or other hearing related issues to prevent hearing loss.
I have been referred to see the Occupational Health Physician (OHP) can I still undertake my role?
In most cases a referral to the OHA or OHP will not impact upon you undertaking your actual role in work provide that your employer is able to implement any necessary recommendations. Referral to the OHP is a legislative requirement which ensures that the employer and employee are fully aware of the current health issues and potential impact of the workplace exposure to noise.
Do my employers have to follow the advice from occupational health?
Occupational health is an advisory service, we are not an enforcing authority, however employers with whom we work will generally follow the guidance provided in order to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation.