Managing Your Occupational Hearing Conservation Data
Sponsored by Shoebox
A successful hearing conservation program starts with audiometric testing records. This data must be maintained for the duration of employment; however, many organizations, such as NIOSH, recommend retaining records for 30 years. (The exception is noise exposure measurements, which are only required to be on file for two years.)
Audiometric testing records include:
- the name and job classification of the employee
- the test date
- the examiner’s name
- the date of the last acoustic or exhaustive calibration
- measurements of the background sound pressure levels in audiometric test rooms
- the employee’s most recent noise exposure measurement
- delivery of training materials
You will be required to produce these records should an employee, former employee, or auditor request them. You may be asked to provide audiometric testing data for the entirety of an employee’s tenure with your organization. If you’re testing outside of a standard sound booth, you must also maintain records to prove that the room was sufficiently quiet enough to adhere to maximum permissible ambient noise levels (MPANLs)—levels for audiometric test rooms that allow valid hearing threshold measurements.
Advantages of Digital Recordkeeping
Digital records have several advantages over paper files. First, with digital records, there are no space limitations. Electronic recordkeeping allows quick retrieval of precise information based on queries for a specific employee’s name, ID number, and date range. Finding the same information in paper records that could go back decades is significantly more tedious.
Turnover happens, and roles change within all levels of an organization, especially during the 30 years that OSHA mandates audiometric testing records be kept. A lot of records can accumulate over 30 years, especially for companies with high turnover rates. In addition to employee turnover, the people administering your program may also exit your company, or the program may expand to a level where additional help is needed. Electronic records make the management of a hearing conversation program more straightforward for the people maintaining it today and for years to come.
Two problems we often see at Shoebox are missing records and out-of-date baseline indicators. Once a record is missing, it can be troublesome to track, especially if you don’t know it’s missing. A common cause of missing records occurs when an employee visits an outside clinic for a retest. The employee may return with a paper copy of the audiogram, which needs to make its way into his or her file. These records can be misplaced, or the program manager might forget to upload the record into the database. It can be difficult to ensure that hardcopy records are uploaded immediately. Organizations that already utilize clinic-based audiometric testing services will most likely have a process in place to upload paper records. Chasing down these records with the clinic is time-consuming.
What we see most often, however, is out-of-date data. When clients change service providers, some of the data settings may get lost in the process, or data may be incorrectly uploaded into the new database. If you have changed providers a few times, the issue becomes compounded…
OSHA: Hearing Conservation (PDF, 2002).