Ear be Progress: Innovation Vs Myth in Hearing Care
Updated: Mar 8
2020 is well under way.
Ironically, considering "2020" lends itself to a whole newspaper stand of vision-based puns, 2020 is actually the official International Year of Sound.
It is also the UK Hearing Conservation Association’s first birthday. (what – you didn’t know?). WorkScreen is incredibly proud to be a founder member of UKHCA (already a member of the World Health Organisation’s Hearing Forum) and we thought we’d take this opportunity to share our motivations for getting involved.
Its 2020 – do we really still need Hearing tests?
At WorkScreen, our expertise is hearing tests in the workplace and there are 5 basic reasons to check hearing at work:
You have a legal requirement – that’s right, if your workers are at risk of damage to their hearing due to noise, then the law says you MUST check their hearing.
Your insurer probably requires it – when hearing loss claims typically run to £thousands per case, insurers are understandably keen to ensure legal compliance before underwriting.
You don’t want to carry the can for others’ misdemeanours. - Some of your staff may well have hearing damage from previous employment. Hearing checks can detect this – so long as you baseline hearing at staff induction - so that you are not fingered for something your organisation is not responsible for.
Hearing protection is not enough on its own. To comply with the law – you MUST provide hearing tests (how else can you monitor the performance of your hearing protection regime?)
Investing in your staff is the smart thing to do. - And it’s hard to demonstrate more care and investment in your staff than looking after their wellfare
They’ve got Myths, we’ve got Innovation
Having established that hearing checks are a good thing and that testing at work is a good place to start, the WorkScreen Mission kicks in:
EVERYONE WHO NEEDS A HEARING TEST AT WORK SHOULD GET ONE
Except that they aren’t, partly due to a whole bunch of myths that we set out to debunk with a dose of reality and innovation:
Myth #1: My hearing is not important – when I’m old and deaf I probably won’t care so much.
Irrespective of the fact that we are living longer and need our hearing to work well for longer, think of this in a different way. Hearing damage is not solely related to hearing loss - in fact, tinnitus is a form of hearing damage and can kick in at any age, sometimes in a bad way – just ask these celebrities. They think their hearing is important enough to tell the world about it……perhaps you should too.
Myth #2: Hearing protection is enough
Errrr.....No. Definitely not. Hearing protection alone is not enough. It really isn’t. Hearing tests are the only way to check that your hearing is in good shape and fit for your life. Even people who wear safety specs have their eyes tested. Checking what you have and protecting what you’ve got are two different things!
Myth #3 – the kids are alright
There is a perception that the world is less noisy, jobs are more benign and – frankly – that our post-industrial age is low risk. To which we say –
EARPHONES ARE MORE IMPORTANT TO YOUNG PEOPLE THAN UNDERWEAR.
Actually, we made that statement up, but it could be true (And do you really want to check anyway?). The point is that we are in an increasingly harsh sonic environment and that our ears are taking a real bashing for longer periods of time, from a young age.
And there are a whole bunch of research pieces and indicators that this is causing widespread hearing problems in young people (to the extent that New Zealand now has a youth hearing screening program launching in 2020).
All this means that hearing checks, hearing awareness and hearing care are – contrary to many expectations – more important than ever.
Myth #4: HSE audiometric testing guidelines are gospel.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hearing test guidelines are certainly a VERY good place to start from when it comes to planning and selecting hearing checks (at work or anywhere else, although certain other applications may have different guidelines).
However, guidelines are NOT mandatory: the HSE recognises that every organisation is different and faces different circumstances, so while YOU MUST provide hearing tests to workers at risk from noise (that is the legal requirement), there is flexibility in the manner in which you do it.
This means that so long as you conduct hearing tests that meet certain standards and you can justify why your approach is effective, then things should be fine. After all, it is better to provide quality hearing tests at work to all your staff than – say – a hearing test regime that follows the guidelines exactly, but to only some, a few or even none of your staff, because it is demonstrably impractical. The guidelines should be your basis, but they are not gospel.
Myth #5: hearing tests are difficult
Testing hearing is a very complex task: it converts a subjective human response ("can I hear that?") into a numeric data set. This takes skill, precision and training. However, WorkScreen has worked out how to automate this process for the user so that they don’t have to necessarily sit in a booth with a person in a white coat outside. And yet we still include the trained audiologist to review, scrutinise and evaluate the result.
So hearing tests ARE complex and – thanks to WorkScreen – they are much less difficult for patients, care providers and organisations than before.
Myth #6: I can justify not providing hearing surveillance
Good luck with this. Even if there is any sympathy out there for people, places and conditions that make providing hearing testing tricky, it is likely to be short-lived. When we are talking about your workers' long term health, that has been shown to affect cognition, mood, social inclusion and more, then that is not a reason to decide hearing tests are not relevant. And the law does not make exceptions either.
Helpfully, WorkScreen has been created to make hearing test at work easier, less hassle and more accessible for staff anywhere, any time of day.
We serve factories in the midlands, shooting schools in the home counties, drilling rigs in Scotland, book binders in Cornwall, building sites in the West Country, dairies in the North….. the list goes on. So yes, you DO have to provide hearing tests at work, but at least WorkScreen can make it easier for managers and “patients”.
Myth #7: Best not to open Pandora’s box…..
There is sometimes a fear that hearing checks will open the floodgates of claims from workers with problem hearing. This concern sounds like the guilty talking…in which case these worrisome folk may want to consider how they are like to be received by the authorities if there is a systemic issue present, without a surveillance regime in place to protect workers. Just like your homework, the sooner you do it, the better, and those who do it are always better off than those who haven’t started it. Which stands to reason: the authorities who assess safety are unlikely to reward organisations who are not sticking to the standards over those who are…..
On a happier note, staff who know they are cared for and valued by their employers generally have a more constructive relationship with them, are happier and are more productive. Bazinga!
Myth #8: There are more important things out there than hearing.
As we write this, many countries are battling Coronavirus, so it is hard to argue this point. But it is also true to say that the UN calculates 1 in 15 people on the planet suffer from hearing loss and 1 in 7 will suffer tinnitus. Hearing care is a big issue, affecting communication, inclusion, productivity and safety.
So while there maybe more urgent health issues out there, hearing health is of global importance. With your help, solutions like WorkScreen can make a real difference.
So that's it.
Hearing is important and being celebrated as so in 2020
Hearing tests are important and may be required in your place of work
Despite a number of myths and historical observations, systems like WorkScreen can debunk these myths, making hearing checks more accessible.
So if you procure or provide occupational health or hearing services contact us at WorkScreen for more information, pricing or ways to trial.