Luggage is loaded at an airport runway by worker

#Shifthappens: Helping Airlines Bring their Hearing Conservation Programs In House

Hearing Conservation

Workplace hearing conservation programs are intended to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Providing hearing protection and educating employees on hearing conservation best practices are necessary safeguards. But employers must also monitor noise levels, provide annual hearing tests, and report any shifts in hearing levels over time.

Managing this program at an airline comes with a unique set of challenges. By nature, airlines are multi-site, spread across the country and even borders. Many departments need to take part in the program. While they may manage their programs independently, they must report results back to a corporate team.  Oh, and airports are noisy!

Most airlines outsource hearing testing to a service provider. The mobile hearing testing services company will usually come onsite in a truck outfitted as a mobile testing clinic. Several small sound booths are installed in the truck bay, allowing the service provider to test several employees simultaneously. Employees line up outside of the truck, queuing for their turn. It’s no surprise that program participants don’t love this setup.  They find the process time-consuming and the testing conditions uncomfortable or even claustrophobic.

Also, consider for a moment where these trucks need to park. Given the size of these mobile clinics, on or just off the tarmac is often the only space that can accommodate vehicles of this size. Even if testing in a sound booth, it is difficult to protect against the sound of planes landing and taking off. Not to mention the noise coming from the generators used to provide power for the trucks and the constant traffic of the tugs moving around the tarmac.

Another tremendous challenge for the health and safety team is scheduling the employees for their tests. Hundreds – or thousands – of employees must be scheduled over several days or weeks while the truck is onsite. We’ve heard stories of people spending upwards of two full work weeks on this task alone. This poses a real logistical nightmare for the individual responsible for this task.

Again, due to the nature of the work, huge numbers of employees will surely miss their scheduled tests. Workers can’t “step away” from their duties when a plane is scheduled to land. Or it is delayed. The crew responsible for receiving that flight must drop everything and get to where they are needed to be.

When a hearing test is missed, the employee will usually be sent to an off-site clinic. This test also needs to be scheduled and generally takes place during regular working times. They can take upwards of two to four hours, inclusive of travel and wait times.  The employer will also likely have another employee cover the work shift of the employee who is off-site having their hearing tested. For the employer, this equates to paying non-productive labour costs of time-and-a-half or even double-time. Either way, all this non-productive work time is very expensive.

Labour costs aren’t the only challenge that off-site testing presents. They also pose a challenge from a compliance standpoint. For easy math, let’s say there are 500 people working at your airline who are part of your hearing conservation program. Conservatively, 10-15% will miss their scheduled test. That’s 50-75 people who will need to visit a clinic. There, an audiologist will administer a test that results in a paper record. That paper record needs to find its way into your corporate record management system. We often hear that a high percentage of these paper records are lost. And lost data hurts compliance ratings. If you don’t have a record as proof of the test and are visited by an OSHA auditor, you may be cited or fined for non-compliance.

These are a few of the unique challenges health and safety managers at major airlines face in their day. There are others – like ensuring a timely baseline for new hires. Ensuring that as employees change roles or move between departments, they know if they need to start or stop participating in the hearing conservation program. How to access historical data. Integrating hearing health records with other HR employee data. The list goes on. But there is a better way.

Several forward-thinking airlines have made a bold decision. They are parting ways with their service provider and bringing their programs in-house. New, mobile-based portable testing equipment coupled with powerful data management and support services is making it possible. SHOEBOX Shift is that solution.

SHOEBOX Shift is an easy-to-use, cost-effective, boothless solution for hearing testing. It comes with everything you’ll need to test, document, and report on your employees’ hearing data. It will provide an experience that your employees will rave about. All while helping you meet your OSHA reporting requirements.

This solution is comprised of three parts; the testing equipment, a web-based data management system, and a variety of support services, including audiological review and program supervision.

The Testing Equipment:

Our portable audiometer is fully automated and iPad-based. It uses the gold-standard modified Hughson Westlake protocol. And it is clinically validated for accuracy. SHOEBOX conforms to the current ANSI S3.6 requirements of a workplace audiometer.

SHOEBOX is optimized for testing outside of a sound booth. It ships with an external Class II microphone. A room scan software feature. And sophisticated background noise monitoring capabilities. In combination, this helps to ensure that your testing environment is within the Maximum Permissible Ambient Noise Levels needed for compliant testing. 

With this, you can move your testing to any reasonably quiet location close to where your employees work – a meeting room, office space, or even the employee lounge. It is hard to argue that these aren’t more comfortable than a cramped sound booth in the back of a truck.

Data Management and Reporting

Although the iPad is ideal for testing, it isn’t a perfect environment for managing volumes of employee data. This is where the SHOEBOX Data Management portal comes in. It is a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment for storing and managing patient data and test results. It offers advanced filtering and reporting capabilities to help you adhere to your specific regulatory requirements. This is where baselines are set. And where reports are generated, including summary, roster, and standard threshold shift (STS) reports. Additionally, this is where we upload historical data generated by your previous service provider. It also provides an ideal environment for remote audiological review of test results and helps to automate the scheduling process.

Support Services

Make no mistake. Making this shift takes work. But we’ve done this before, and we know how to make it successful. That’s why we offer a wide variety of support — from product warranties to personalized training and proactive calibration services. But also customized support to meet the very particular needs of the airline industry. Such as deployment and fleet management. Let us take care of getting everything to all your locations in every airport. We even manage the iPads remotely, always ensuring they are updated with the latest software and operating systems. Do you need program management? We can help with that. Our optional audiological services include audiological review, WRE determinations, and audiological Program Supervision. We offer custom training programs, historical data import services, EMR integrations, site compliance monitoring, and quarterly review assessments.

We always say that the best way to start is to walk before you run. Let us run a proof of concept project with your teams, then work with you to scale up from there. Our implementation teams will manage all of the pre-launch planning, and then see you through a phased roll-out across all of your individual sites. 

So, are you ready to take back control of your hearing conservation program? Let us show you how. We understand the unique workflows of the airline industry. We’ve managed the deployment of large-scale programs, including ones that required multiple integrations with EMR, LMS and HR systems. We know how to help you win over key stakeholders like union representatives and answer questions related to data security. What’s best? Your employees are going to love testing with SHOEBOX and appreciate not having to test in those hot, stuffy trucks anymore.