Have you ever been asked to determine if a hearing loss is work-related or not? Or to review audiometric tests done by an audiometric technician at a work site? Or to identify an OSHA recordable hearing shift? While very few audiologists claim full time employment in an occupational setting (Sector Intelligence, 2014), it’s likely that most clinical audiologists have been involved in some way, shape, or form, with the sub-specialty some call occupational audiology. On the surface, these types of requests from employers may seem straight forward; after all, it’s just a matter of complying with the regulatory requirements, right? Well, there is more than meets the ear when it comes to providing appropriate, efficacious occupational audiology services. Sometimes, the issues are complicated and lack clearly defined answers. Furthermore, conflict can arise between employers who want to avoid a recordable incident and employees who have hearing health concerns. What’s a good audiologist to do?
The term “professional supervisor” or PS refers to physicians and audiologists who engage with occupational hearing conservation programs (HCPs). Initially introduced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the term is also applies to the
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). A primary mandatory responsibility of the PS, as defined by OSHA, is to review “problem” audiograms. This can range anywhere from an audiogram that appears unreliable or invalid to a worker’s entire hearing history when a significant decrease in hearing is revealed. Regulatory agencies allow for technicians to conduct the air conduction threshold tests, however when problems arise, the employer must seek professional oversight.
For the past decade or so, the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) has offered a credential, called the Professional Supervisor of the Audiometric Monitory Program© (CPS/A) for qualifying audiologists and physicians. Earning this credential requires meeting the pre-requisites of professional and experiential qualifications, attending a one-day course, and passing an on-line exam. While not a regulatory requirement, obtaining certification is an excellent way to get up-to-date information, relevant resources, and to have contact with subject matter experts. Holding the CPS/A designator can also be a prudent differentiator from one’s competitors and a credibility builder with prospective clients.
The scope of practice of a professional supervisor as outlined by CAOHC encompasses five categories of responsibility:
- Establishment and supervision of an audiometric testing program
- Review of audiograms
- Determination of work-relatedness
- Follow up of work-related auditory disorders
- Management of an audiometric database
For more information on the CPS/A credential and upcoming course offerings, visit the CAOHC website: www.caohc.org. In addition, the recently updated Hearing Conservation Manual 5th Edition (CAOHC, 2014), provides detailed information useful for the professional supervisor and the occupational hearing conservationist.
The National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) also offers a resource, particularly helpful to those struggling with work-related determination decisions: NHCA Guidelines for Recording Hearing Loss on the OSHA 300 Log (NHCA, 2011). This document, written by a committee of professionals, addresses the OSHA regulatory requirements and offers practical recommendations for wording reports and working with employers. The NHCA Guidelines can be retrieved from the NHCA website by clicking here.
Since October Is National Audiology Awareness Month & National Protect Your Hearing Month, it’s a perfect time to pursue the CPS/A credential, develop the expertise, and protect those noise‑exposed cochleas. The next CAOHC PS Course is November 7, 2015 in Portland, OR. Take action today to help prevent occupational hearing loss!
American Academy of Audiology, Audiology Awareness and Protect Your Hearing Month, http://www.howsyourhearing.org/awareness.html.
Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (2014). The Hearing Conservation Manual 5th Edition, Hutchison, T. L., and Schulz, T. Y. Available from www.caohc.org.
Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation, The Professional Supervisor Scope of Practice, http://www.caohc.org/professional-supervisors/ps-responsibilities.
National Hearing Conservation Association, 2011, Guidelines for Recording Hearing Loss on the OSHA 300 Log, http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.hearingconservation.org/resource/resmgr/imported/Guidelinesforworkrelatednessdraft.pdf.
OSHA (1983). “Occupational Noise Exposure: Hearing Conservation Amendment; Final Rule,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 29 CFR 1910.95; 48 Fed. Reg., 9738 – 9785.
Sector Intelligence, 2013. AAA 2013 Compensation and Benefits Report. Retrieved from http://www.audiology.org/about-us/membership/benefits/compensation-benefits-survey.
Laurie Wells is a Senior Acoustics Regulatory Affairs Specialist for 3M Personal Safety Division at 3M where she has global regulatory responsibility for hearing protection. Her primary experience lies in professional review of the audiometric monitoring program and management of hearing loss prevention programs. Laurie holds the Doctor of Audiology degree from Salus University School of Audiology and is Board Certified in Audiology. She is a certified Professional Supervisor of the Audiometric Monitoring Program© and a certified Course Director for the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC). Currently, she represents the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) on the CAOHC Council where she holds the elected position of Vice-Chair of Education. Laurie is past-president of the National Hearing Conservation Association, and served on its board from 1999 – 2007.