A Western Australian development in evaluating hearing loss in the workplace may lead to a greater understanding and control of the problem nationwide.
The development, known as HearTest, is an audiometric testing computer program created by occupational health and safety staff at Western Mining Corporation's Kambalda Nickel Mines.
HearTest is designed to detect, measure and monitor hearing problems and changes in the workplace.
The main benefits of HearTest, which is used to interpret the standard Waugh and Macrae hearing test criteria, are that it:
· simplifies current calculating procedures;
· offers uniformity of analysis;
· reduces risk of error or misinterpretation of data;
· provides a central workplace computer database and program;
· saves time and eases the workflow;
· eliminates tedious re-keying of data; and -
· has been developed with software and user manual for immediate implementation post-training.
Amendments to the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act passed last year require what is known as `baseline' or initial benchmark assessment hearing tests of all workers in workplaces prescribed as noise-affected.
Some 60,000 Western Australians have been tested by Commission-approved testers over the past 18 months. One in 10 of those has been diagnosed as having a problem requiring full audiological assessment.
Australia-wide research indicates the seriousness of the problem and the need for uniformity of analysis. One in seven Australians over the age of 50 suffers from nerve deafness, mostly due to noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace.
HearTest has been developed over the past two years by staff at WMC's nickel operation to serve its own needs.
It has proved so effective in trials that it has been taken on board by the WA Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Commission for use in industry generally.
Western Mining's managing director, Mr Hugh Morgan, formally handed over the program to Productivity and Labour Relations Minister Yvonne Henderson today.
Mr Morgan said WMC was pleased to be able to contribute to improved occupational health standards.
"It is highly appropriate that this handover takes place in what is national Deafness Awareness Week in Australia," he said.
"The effective identification, monitoring and control of occupational health risks is a matter for every industry, employer and employee. For this reason we are freely making this program available through a central authority such as the Commission.
"Worksafe Australia has identified noise-induced hearing loss as a priority health and safety issue. It estimates that up to 500,000 Australians work in hazardous noise environments."
There were as yet largely unrecognised costs to industry and the community in general as a result of the lack of understanding of the effects of noise-induced hearing loss, Mr Morgan said.
"These include reductions in quality of life, the ability to communicate, future job prospects and performance; and higher employee turnover, absenteeism and the cost of personal protection programs," he said.
Mrs Henderson said that this Western Australian initiative had the potential to become the `workplace standard' in audiometric testing across Australia.
"While there is a general understanding of the problem and extent of noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace, little is known about specifics, because adequate databases for genuine comparison have not been available," she said.
"HearTest, combined with the WA Government's requirements for compulsory baseline testing in prescribed workplaces, now offers the opportunity to build a valuable bank of comparable knowledge in specific industries and occupations to give a clearer picture of the degree of risk associated with particular kinds of work.
"Armed with this information, action can be taken in the workplace."
The Commission's executive director, Mr Harry Neesham, said the Commission would move immediately to make the program known and available to industry across-the-board in Western Australia.
"HearTest offers a unique opportunity for all industry to adopt an audiometric testing program that offers simplicity, uniformity and collation of comparative data, which in turn will lead to a greater understanding of noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace," he said.
The credit for creating HearTest lies with two employees at the Kambalda Nickel Mines. They are audiometric officer Mr Ian Sterry and systems officer Mr Hon Liong.