An image of an audiologist administering an iPad-based hearing test to an employee as part of an occupational hearing testing program

Shifting Away from Once-a-Year Testing in Hearing Conservation Programs with SHOEBOX

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The annual scheduling of all participating employees in a Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) can present significant challenges for many organizations. Here, Kate Mosley, Product Manager for Occupational Hearing Testing at SHOEBOX, provides a vision for adopting a different approach.

What is the advantage of shifting away from testing all employees in an HCP at the same time once per year?

We are asked this question a lot. There are many advantages.

The traditional approach businesses use to manage their HCP is hiring an audiological service provider. This provider comes onsite with a mobile clinic, typically a large truck outfitted with testing booths and equipment. Alternatively, companies may opt to send participating employees to a local clinic. Both of these choices can become prohibitively expensive, as well as time-consuming.

The truck is usually scheduled over a one- or two-day period once per year. On a given day and time, the employee must make their way to the location on campus where the truck is set up. In an organization with hundreds or thousands of employees in their HCP, the burden of scheduling these employees and the oversight required to ensure they get to the mobile clinic can be significant.

This can be challenging, depending on the type of operation you’re running. These employees may be performing an important service or operating a specialized piece of machinery. To pull them away from their job or off of a production line often means a disruption of service. You may even be required to backfill them while they are away to ensure continued operations. Not only is this disruptive, it quickly becomes expensive, especially when you pay overtime to employees who cover a colleague’s workstation while they are undergoing their hearing test. Then, for many reasons, they couldn’t leave their post or make it to work that day, and they missed their scheduled appointment. Now rescheduling is required.

These tests are typically booked close together, often leaving the employee less than 15 minutes to get in and out of the mobile clinic, which could very well be parked on the other side of the campus. Everything needs to line up perfectly. Their replacement needs to arrive on time, they need to be able to leave their post on time, and they need to be able to get from their workplace to the mobile clinic on time.

This model of testing can be very complicated.

Moving towards a more flexible schedule of testing has plenty of advantages. This becomes less of a burden on the Health and Safety Manager responsible for scheduling to do so in a short time. Employees will find this less disruptive and more conducive to their agendas, and it can be much less expensive. This testing flexibility also enables you to test at any time of the day. For those employees who work the “third” or overnight shift, testing them before they begin their day versus having them come in during their personal time offers additional advantages.

Finally, when attempting to schedule very large numbers of employees, it is not unusual for Health and Safety Managers to spend upwards of two weeks just to establish the testing schedule for all participants. This doesn’t take into account rescheduling those folks who missed their appointment. This may not be the most efficient use of time for these skilled professionals.

Is there a better way?

Test more often, and spread the testing out. There are 365 opportunities to get all of your testing done. Figure out what makes the most sense for your business. If you have only 100-200 employees who are part of your program, then perhaps testing a few people once a week makes sense. For larger groups of, say, 500 or 1,000, you may want to set aside a couple of months during the year to focus on hearing testing. The point is, you have the flexibility to set a schedule that works best for your organization. We can offer consulting in this area to help you figure out what might work best for you.

With a spread-out testing schedule, how do you remember who is due for testing?

We suggest using either a date-of-birth schedule or a date-of-hire schedule. Either one works well and is easy to track and manage. Employees will always remember their birthdays, so this is a common approach. If you plan to perform the baseline audiometric test at or very close to a new employee’s hire date, then using the date of hire anniversary may make more sense for you.

Either one works well and has its advantages. You have the flexibility to do what works best for you.

Speaking of new employees, how is getting them added to your program different under this testing model?

OSHA requires that you test new employees within the first six months of their hire date. Best practice is within one month of hiring. Imagine if your service provider was on-site today, and you have a new hire starting next week. That provider will not be returning until next year. You either become out of compliance as soon as that employee hits their six-month-plus-a-day mark, or you must find a local clinic and have them scheduled there. All the usual challenges of sending the employee to a clinic during their work shift apply.

With SHOEBOX, every new employee can be tested within days or weeks of employment.

You’ve touched on this, but can you dive deeper into what happens when an employee misses their scheduled hearing test?

In the past, when an employee missed their scheduled hearing test, they would be sent off-site to a local clinic. Even if you hire a service provider, it is unlikely they will be available or that it would be cost-effective for them to come back on-site to test the small percentage of employees who missed their originally scheduled test.

That clinic trip can be time-consuming and costly. Particularly if you cover travel expenses, the employee visits the clinic during work hours, and you pay someone else overtime to cover their shift. If you are operating in a somewhat remote location with no testing clinics nearby, that could mean a half or even a full day away from work for the employee.

With SHOEBOX, if an employee misses their test, it can be rescheduled for the next time they are at work.

And if an employee requires a retest because their audiogram looks invalid, how is that handled in this type of testing model?

In the past, with the standard model of testing with a van, the employee would be retested immediately. This can be counterintuitive. If an employee has a wax build-up or congestion from a cold, they might present with a Standard Threshold Shift when the tests are performed back-to-back. In this scenario, you are likely to see the exact same result. If you can retest in a week or two after their cold has subsided or had wax removed, you may see more accurate results.

What are the disadvantages of daily audiometric testing? Can you think of any?

I can think of one. Everyone has a lot on their plate, particularly Health and Safety Managers, who have many responsibilities. There is some prep work to ensure your industrial audiometer is functioning properly and is ready for testing. This can take 5-to-10 minutes. If you test daily, this preparation time adds up. Consider grouping some of your testings; for example, test everyone who has a work anniversary this week on Friday. This way, you only do the audiometer preparation work once, but you were still able to test everyone that week.

We believe that making this shift away from once-per-year testing to something more fluid and regular will give your Health and Safety Team more flexibility and more control over your program. We also believe that this approach makes the retest process easier to manage, which could help improve rates of compliance.

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 two 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.