I don’t know about you, but we love a three-letter acronym (TLA) or greater; WYSIWYG springs to mind. Chris Steel of the HSE coined a beauty on World Hearing Day (more of that later): Chris introduced us to ‘CUFF’ in relation to using hearing protection effectively and thereby protecting your hearing. The CUFF acronym stands for making sure you are aware of your hearing protections’:-
- Fit the ear and
- Fit for purpose, the latter relating to the hearing protector’s SNR value.
This is an important message, because for millions of workers around the world, the risk of noise induced hearing loss from exposure to loud noise has remained an endemic issue for many decades. And yes, there’s an acronym to go with Noise Induced Hearing Loss: NIHL.
How Can Hearing Protection Solve NIHL?
Frustratingly, although it is the most prevalent industrial disease across Europe, NIHL is avoidable. Hearing protection is often a kneejerk response to the problem and is frequently the “go-to” solution on the ground, but it is actually considered the least effective method in terms of the hierarchy of controls, requiring the most supervision.
In a prior article, we touched on the ideas that a hearing protector is only as effective as the way it is used. In particular, hearing protection must be worn 100% of the time when in noise, be a good fit and must be in a good condition for it to be effective. Hearing protection should also be used in conjunction with hearing tests/surveillance audiometry, so that you know it is effective over the longer term.
And given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we’d therefore like to introduce an extended TLA, based on CUFF – namely CHUFFED. Here, the additional H stands for hearing health and ED is education.
People exposed to noise at work must be provided with a hearing test by law and audiometric testing remains the ‘Gold Standard’ best practice method to monitor hearing health. But understanding your hearing health needn’t be the preserve of the audiology profession and using the benefits of WorkScreen’s tablet-based cloud-based technology, it is now easier than ever to undertake a hearing test in the workplace backed by remote oversight to ensure compliance with the legal requirements presented by the Noise at Work Act 2005.
Reports are instantly available on screen, allowing appropriate action to be taken based on four categories of hearing loss as shown in the table below. Categories 1 & 2 do not need referral, but 3 & 4 (in addition to any other referral our audiology team make) require the services of a worker’s GP or similarly qualified individual for further clinical investigation.
Implications/ Recommended Action
HSE Category 1 –ACCEPTABLE HEARING ABILITY
|No loss compared to other people of their age group.||Ongoing training and surveillance.|
HSE Category 2 –MILD HEARING IMPAIRMENT
|Poor hearing compared to other people of their age group.||May indicate developing NIHL. Warn relevant (all?) staff members, review risks, training, monitoring & procedures e.g. more frequent hearing testing|
HSE Category 3 –POOR HEARING
|Very poor hearing compared to other people of their age group.||Suggests significant NIHL. Refer staff for further investigation/ diagnosis. Review and update risk register in the light of the referral. Revise risk profile of individuals concerned and make adjustments as required. Warn relevant (all?) staff members, review risks, training, monitoring & procedures e.g. more frequent hearing testing|
HSE Category 4 – RAPID/UNILATERAL HEARING LOSS
|Significantly different hearing ability between ears or large reduction of hearing ability (30dB) in 3 years or less.||Suggests potentially complex reason for hearing problems. Refer staff for further investigation/ diagnosis. Review and update risk register in the light of the referral. Revise risk profile of individuals concerned and make adjustments as required. Consider more frequent hearing testing.|
The crucial thing about these categories is that the values of the criteria determining a person’s category vary for different demographics. Specifically, the criteria for hearing loss to be deemed “acceptable” in younger people is MUCH tighter than for older people, since younger people can be statistically expected to have better hearing than older folk.
World Health Organisation, Hearing Partners & Safe Listening
But in 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the World report on hearing that highlighted the increasing number of people living with and at risk of hearing loss. It highlighted noise control as one of seven key interventions and stressed the importance of mitigating exposure to loud sounds. On World Hearing Day on the 3rd of March 2022, WHO promoted the message of safe listening as a means of maintaining good hearing across life’s course. And the earlier people practice safe listening, the better. Education therefore has a key part to play.
Take Lorraine Gailey of Hearing Partners, for example, who has established a not-for-profit business to improve the way we use our hearing in everyday life in order that we can all build stronger relationships and enjoy our working lives more. The idea was born from a deep understanding of how people who live with hearing loss manage to overcome the immense obstacles they face when communicating in a hearing world. We witnessed that for ourselves how successful this can be during the last series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Hearing Partners operates in two ways:
- Education through blogs, talks, and events where awareness is raised about how important our hearing is to our mental and emotional well-being, our social connections, and our productivity in the workplace.
- through training, where programmes show how, with a little thought and minimal financial outlay, we can all hear better and therefore relate better to the people who matter in our lives.
Taking delivery of WorkScreen’s handset to support their work, Lorraine has commented that
“it now means that we can offer calibrated hearing screening as part of our hearing training and education programmes, which is one more way to help raise awareness of hearing health and wellbeing so everyone gets more out of their conversations every day”.
WHO’s 2022 event theme “To hear for life, listen with care” was focused on the importance and means of hearing loss prevention through safe listening, with the following key messages:
- It is possible to have good hearing across the life course through ear and hearing care
- Many common causes of hearing loss can be prevented, including hearing loss caused by exposure to loud sounds
- ‘Safe listening’ can mitigate the risk of hearing loss associated with recreational sound exposure
- WHO calls upon governments, industry partners and civil society to raise awareness for and implement evidence-based standards that promote safe listening
Together, WorkScreen and Hearing Partners are already working towards these goals, whether we are at work, rest or play through the application of technology and education.