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  • Writer's pictureCara Blanchard

Workplace Hearing Health & Audiometry Testing in New Zealand

In New Zealand, it is estimated 1 in 6 adults live with some sort of hearing loss, costing the health sector an estimated $131.8 million. Hearing loss deeply affects the well being of the individual experiencing it; not being able to hear the birds singing, and not being able to hear and take part in conversations with friends and family can be devastating and can cause social isolation, stress, and depression in some people with hearing loss.

It’s important to have workplace hearing tests to ensure the safety of employees. Hearing loss is preventable with proper workplace hearing protection and audiometry testing. Audiometry testing can help identify individuals at risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss and allow for early intervention. Workplace hearing tests are important to maintain the safety and well-being of employees.

What is Audiometry?

Audiometry is the science of measuring hearing. The history of audiometry dates back to the early 1900s. In 1906, Dr. Heinrich von Torklus published the first paper on the use of audiometry for detecting hearing loss in workers exposed to noise. This paper described how to measure loudness discomfort levels and how to use these measurements to estimate safe exposure levels. The first clinical audiometer was developed in 1910 by Dr. Harvey Fletcher. This audiometer could be used to measure a person’s hearing threshold level, which is the minimum amount of sound that a person can hear.

How does hearing work?

The outer ear and middle ear are responsible for capturing and amplifying sounds and transmitting these to the inner ear. The inner ear’s structure is very delicate; it contains very tiny hair cells that move in response to sound waves. As the hair cells move they trigger chemical signals which travel to the brain. Different parts of the inner ear are responsible for hearing different frequencies or pitches. Damage to any part of the ear, in particular, your tiny hair cells and inner ear, can result in what is known as Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), NIHL is permanent damage to the inner ear that occurs from exposure to too much noise. NIHL can occur suddenly or over time. It is important to remember that NIHL is preventable.

How much noise is too much noise?

The level at which sound becomes harmful depends on both the loudness of the sound and the amount of time you are exposed to it. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time needed before it causes hearing damage. For example, exposure to a loud rock concert for 15 minutes could damage your hearing.

Exposure to sound levels at or above 85 decibels (dB) for extended periods can cause NIHL. Noise level is measured in dB. To give you an idea of what this means, noise levels at a busy street corner measure about 85 dB. The noise level inside a car on the highway measures about 70 dB, whilst the noise levels inside a quiet office measure about 50 dB.

Are there different types of workplace hearing tests?

Yes, there are many. However, the main type of workplace hearing test conducted is pure-tone audiometry testing. This test measures a person’s ability to hear pure tones at different frequencies. The results of this test are graphed on an audiogram. If an individual's test resulted in an outcome that would indicate damage or hearing loss, we would refer them to a specialist or their GP for further investigation.

Why You Should do Workplace Hearing Tests | Healthbox
Why You Should do Workplace Hearing Tests

Are hearing tests a legal requirement for New Zealand organisations?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires employers (PCBUs) to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from risks to their hearing health. WorkSafe has an in-depth download to help understand how to identify hazards in your workplace.

There are many workplaces where someone might need a hearing test. For example, in a workplace where there is exposure to loud noise, such as a construction site or factory. Hearing tests can also be useful for assessing the health of workers who have been exposed to noise over an extended period, such as musicians or office workers who use headsets regularly.

Can a hearing test be included with your other services?

Yes, a workplace hearing test can be conducted as a standalone appointment or as part of our other services, such as our Safety Check or Health Check. Audiometry testing is often conducted alongside our Spirometry testing service, as often someone who is exposed to loud noise or high levels of noise over an extended period of time is often exposed to particulates as well (i.e. dust, paint spray). The Healthbox team members are highly qualified to conduct audiometry testing and can provide you with a comprehensive organizational report of the results. We recommend that all adults have their hearing checked at least every year.

How does a hearing test work?

Healthbox workplace audiometry tests are performed by one of our highly trained clinical exercise physiologists in a quiet room onsite at your workplace during a 15-minute appointment. A short questionnaire is also completed. Results are compared to normative New Zealand data and abnormal results are referred to audiologists for follow-up.

Contact Healthbox to arrange workplace Audiometry appointments for your team!


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