An photo of a workplace employee having his hearing tested with an Occupational health and safety manager administering the test

Occupational Hearing Testing Options: Clinics, Mobile Clinics, and Boothless Audiometry

Hearing Conservation, Hearing Conservation eBook

Employers have several options in how to conduct testing as part of a Hearing Conservation Program (HCP). These include sending staff to clinics or bringing mobile clinics on site. Many forward-thinking employers are opting to manage their programs in-house by leveraging boothless, automated audiometry.

While there are pros and cons to each, one option offers cost savings benefits and greater flexibility around testing schedules.

Sending Staff to the Clinic

Sending your staff to local audiology or occupational health clinics for their annual hearing test is an option for employee annual audiogram requirements. 

However, this approach can be expensive, not to mention disruptive for both the employee and the employer. Costs include paying the clinic’s testing fee, and clinic hours will dictate when employees can be tested. This can mean paid time away from work while employees visit the clinic. Depending on the type of business you run, it may also mean the cost of a second employee to cover that shift and any other transportation or parking expenses you cover for your employees. While costs add up, productivity is being impacted.

Sending staff to a local clinic can also pose a potential challenge for record-keeping. The typical output of a clinic visit is a paper copy of the audiogram. For compliance maintenance, that audiogram must be filed with the employee’s records and be kept for 30+ years. It can be a challenge for health and safety managers to ensure these audiograms are filed in the days or weeks after the clinic visit. Alternatively, the manager can manually enter the results into an audiometric monitoring software platform, but that also takes time.  

If yours is a small team of people who need to have an annual hearing test, sending them to a clinic can be a good approach. Nevertheless, as the team grows, the cost and compliance challenges may nudge you towards considering a different approach.

Bringing a Mobile Clinic On-Site

This may be the most common approach employers use to conduct annual testing. Bringing a clinic on-site can be more convenient for your employees than sending them out to the local clinic.  Mobile clinics – a truck outfitted with several sound booths in the back – can test two-to-four employees at the same time, which can speed up testing for larger teams.

The service-provider approach will be presented as a turn-key solution for employers. However, there can still be a heavy burden on the health and safety team to manage annual testing schedules for all members of your HCP. For facilities that run 24-hour work shifts, the mobile clinic is not likely to stay onsite overnight to accommodate these workers. Roughly 10-15% of employees will miss their scheduled appointment for a variety of reasons, such as illness, emergencies, or other work priorities. This will require more time from the health and safety team to reschedule these employees. And you must decide if you bring the truck back on-site or send these individuals out to the local clinic. Either way, costs will add up, and productivity suffers.

Other considerations for bringing trucks onsite include having space large enough to accommodate them at your facility. Where the trucks need to park may not be convenient for your staff. And may not be optimal in terms of noise control.

Additionally, people generally don’t enjoy the experience of being tested in the mobile clinic. The sound booths installed in them can be small, cramped, and dated. Noise produced by generators, fans, heaters, and air conditioners can impact ambient noise levels and may need to be turned off during testing – resulting in uncomfortable conditions.

Boothless Audiometry

There is a movement underway to bring testing programs in-house. New modern, mobile technology optimized for out-of-the-booth testing is making it possible.

Frustrated by the cost of clinics and service providers and fed up with the challenge of annual testing schedules, these companies are willing to assume additional responsibilities in exchange for having greater control over their programs.

When you decide to bring your HCP in-house, there may be more work for you and your team as you take on the task of testing, notifications to employees, and record-keeping. However, it will likely result in significantly-reduced overall expenses. Also, managing the testing schedule will be easier as you will not be limited to testing only when mobile testing units are available. One of the significant advantages of having tablet-based testing in-house is that you, as an employer, will be able to obtain baseline audiograms much closer to the employment start date than if you had to wait for a mobile unit. This results in more accurate, and therefore more useful, baseline measures. Annual tests can then be scheduled on the anniversary of the employee’s hire date, for example.

With these types of systems, all records are digital and stored in a secure, easy-to-access web portal. Data can be organized by location, by team, or by department. Historical data – whether from previous service providers, audiometric data storage software, or the local clinic – can easily be transferred to these digital systems, and it may be possible to offer custom integrations with HR systems, Learning Management systems, or other data management tools.

Bringing your HCP in-house can be more cost-effective and convenient without sacrificing accuracy or compliance. Our boothless solution, SHOEBOX for Occupational Hearing Testing, has been clinically validated to produce diagnostic test results, and the equipment meets the audiometric specifications for occupational testing of ANSI/ASA S3.6-2018.  

The workplace audiometric testing equipment and data management platform are designed to help you manage your HCP in-house. We also offer comprehensive audiological services delivered by a network of licensed audiologists who specialize in occupational health reviews. Offering coverage across the United States and Canada (expansion planned to other regions in future), the Reviewer Network can offer your HCP:  

  • Shift determination and confirmation
  • Identification and review of problem audiograms
  • Baseline audiogram revisions
  • Ensuring completeness of results
  • Medical and/or audiological referrals recommendations, as needed
  • Test follow-up recommendations

If you do not have an audiologist or physician overseeing your program, our CAOHC-certified Audiology Team of Professional Supervisors can perform this role for you, offering:

  • Support to ensure your testing environment meets OSHA requirements for open-room testing
  • Review of your historical records and record-keeping best practices
  • Testing configuration support
  • Training of test administrators
  • Review of your annual hearing conservation training for employees
  • Review of the various options of hearing protection employers need to provide
  • Recommendations when shifts are clustered within groups of employees or at a higher incidence than expected
  • Consultation for various hearing conservation tasks and requirements

Boothless audiometry can help you take back control of your HCP while at the same time offering a more optimal experience for your staff. Testing can be performed close to where employees work in any comfortable OSHA-compliant room, including quiet offices or meeting rooms. Missed tests are easily re-booked for the next available opportunity. This type of flexibility can significantly improve your overall testing compliance as retests become easier and more accessible. Adhering to all retest recommendations can reduce the number of your annual recordable hearing shifts by as much as 50%. 

This chapter outlines various options for audiometric testing of individuals who are part of a Hearing Conservation Program, along with important considerations for each. Options are helpful when designing the best annual testing set-up for your company, and innovation has brought forth some interesting and efficient new offerings. Our teams at SHOEBOX can help you design or re-design your annual testing set-up with one or a combination of these options.

This guide is intended to be a useful tool on your journey to in-house mobile hearing testing or adding iPad-based testing to your services business. We’ll be releasing a new chapter each week for the next 11 weeks! However, if you would like to download the complete guide now, complete the form below.

Feel free to share this with colleagues, peers, or others who would benefit from learning more about how to optimize your Hearing Conservation Program with innovative employee-focused testing and follow-up.