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Conducting Hearing Tests are Now Mandatory in NSW 

26/09/2023by admin0Read: 4 minutes

The New South Wales Government has granted approval for the implementation of Clause 58, focused on Audiometric Testing, within the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulation 2017, effective starting January 1, 2024. This decision follows a comprehensive period of public consultation held in 2022.

Impact on Businesses 

In cases where a business necessitates its employees to regularly employ hearing protection as a preventive measure for noise levels surpassing the designated exposure standard, it is imperative that the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) arranges and covers the expenses for hearing tests.

For new employees, it is mandatory to undergo a baseline hearing test within the initial three months of commencing their employment. Subsequently, employees are obligated to participate in follow-up monitoring hearing tests at least biennially throughout their tenure.

However, workers subjected to consistently high average noise levels during their work shifts (e.g., ≥ 100dB(A)) may necessitate more frequent hearing tests.

Guidance on Making an Appointment

The PCBU has the flexibility to schedule a hearing test appointment at any nearby audiology clinic, and there’s no need for a doctor’s referral when arranging the test. However, in cases where workers encounter persistent threshold shifts in their hearing, it is advisable to refer them to a medical practitioner.

A doctor can play a vital role in identifying the underlying causes of hearing loss and exploring potential treatment avenues.

Hearing Test (Audiometry)

A hearing test is a painless and non-invasive examination designed to assess an individual’s auditory abilities. The most frequently employed test is pure-tone audiometry, which gauges the faintest sound a person can detect across various frequencies.

During this test, the worker participates by responding to each frequency through a button press. The lowest volume at which the worker can detect sounds across the frequency spectrum establishes their hearing threshold.

To establish a worker’s initial hearing status, a baseline (reference) hearing test is conducted before they begin their employment, ensuring a clear starting point. This baseline test should be administered before workers face any exposure to potentially harmful noise in the workplace.

Subsequently, a monitoring hearing test should be carried out at least once every two years throughout the worker’s tenure. The results are then compared to the baseline test to evaluate any alterations in hearing sensitivity.

These monitoring tests are typically conducted a few hours into the worker’s shift to identify any temporary threshold shifts in their hearing.

Who Performs a Hearing Test?

A proficient individual, such as an audiologist or an audiometric screener, with the requisite training and experience, should carry out hearing tests. They should be able to perform the tests, interpret the results, and communicate them effectively to individuals at the workplace, enabling them to make informed decisions.

It should be ensured that these hearing tests adhere to the procedures specified in AS/NZS 1269.4:2014 – Occupational Noise Management – Part 4: Auditory assessment.

Audiometric Screener

A trained individual possessing the expertise to perform audiometric screenings, analyse the outcomes, and generate informative reports is an asset. These reports are instrumental in aiding business owners and employees in implementing effective measures to address hearing-related concerns and mitigate exposure to elevated noise levels.

What Can One Anticipate During a Hearing Test?

Workers are not required to fulfil any specific prerequisites in preparation for a hearing test. For individuals undergoing their first hearing test, the audiologist will conduct a brief inquiry to gather information about the person’s history of noise exposure in both their workplace and personal life.

Prior to the hearing test, an ear examination will be conducted. This examination employs an otoscope to inspect the ears for any physical impairments or obstructions (such as earwax) that could potentially impact the accuracy of the hearing test.

Hearing Test Results

Test results are promptly provided to workers immediately following the hearing test, along with a comprehensive explanation of their implications. It’s worth noting that during the course of employment, workers may experience subtle changes in their hearing abilities when undergoing monitoring hearing tests. These shifts, in many instances, may lack clinical significance.

However, shifts in hearing thresholds that do bear clinical significance are referred to as “significant threshold shifts.” These shifts can potentially indicate a temporary or permanent hearing loss. Temporary threshold shifts, which are typically short-term and often associated with exposure to loud noise, typically recover gradually when the affected individual spends time in a quiet environment.

In cases where a temporary threshold shift is identified, a re-test is essential, conducted on another day and after a 16-hour period spent in quiet conditions, to ascertain whether the shift is permanent or temporary.

A permanent threshold shift signifies an enduring change in a worker’s hearing threshold, leading to hearing loss. If such a shift occurs, it is advisable to refer the worker to a physician for a proper diagnosis of the underlying cause of the hearing loss and to explore potential treatment options.

Post-Hearing Test Responsibilities of a Business 

The responsibilities of a business after a hearing test has been conducted, include the following:

1) Record Keeping

The PCBU must ensure that all hearing test reports, including any updated baseline hearing tests, are kept as confidential documents. Employees should get a copy of their hearing test reports when their employment ends.

2) Implementing Control Measures Where Threshold Shift or Tinnitus is Reported

In the event of identifying a significant permanent threshold shift or diagnosing tinnitus, it becomes imperative for the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to conduct a comprehensive review of the noise control measures within the workplace. The objective here is to ascertain that these measures are still effectively mitigating the risk of additional hearing impairment among workers.

Organisations should undertake the following actions:

  • Evaluate Worker Tasks: Begin by scrutinizing worker tasks to identify any modifications that might have resulted in increased noise exposure.
  • Implement Higher-Order Controls: Whenever feasible, incorporate advanced controls like isolation and engineering to minimize worker exposure to noise.
  • Chemical Substitution: Consider substituting ototoxic chemicals with less hazardous alternatives or review existing controls to ensure their continued effectiveness in preventing inhalation, absorption, and ingestion risks.
  • Hearing Protector Assessment: Ensure that the hearing protectors worn by workers are suitable for the level of noise exposure they encounter.
  • Retraining: Provide necessary retraining to workers to ensure that they properly fit and consistently wear their hearing protectors during their work shifts.

However, if a worker’s hearing loss begins to impede their safe job performance, it is the responsibility of the PCBU to take all reasonably practicable measures to modify the work environment. This can encompass actions such as adjusting equipment volume, establishing acoustically treated meeting areas with minimal noise and sound reflections, introducing supplementary visual warning signals, or, if no other solutions prove effective, exploring alternative work options for the affected worker.

Resources to Help Businesses

Businesses can refer to the new hearing test requirements for NSW Employees and Workers.

Anitech’s experienced audiometric consultants can help organisations understand the new hearing test requirements as well as assist in creating and implementing control measures to prevent the exposure of workers to high noise levels.

Contact us today at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – sales@anitechgroup.com

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