Employee health – particularly during cold and flu season – can create several unique challenges for OSHA-required testing.
Head congestion, sinus infections and ear infections can all trigger Standard Threshold Shifts during Audiometric Testing. Accordingly, respiratory illnesses can affect spirometry results and Respiratory Clearances.
Here is what Safety Directors, Human Resources Departments and other Supervisors need to know about how employee health can affect OSHA-required testing.
Employee health can affect test results.
The general achiness that comes with cold and flu season can be enough to affect employee testing, but the real culprit is congestion.
Nasal congestion can prevent the eustachian tubes in the ears from draining properly, which can prevent the ear drum from vibrating normally. When the ear drum is inhibited, sounds become muffled, and it can register as a Standard Threshold Shift during Audiometric Testing. Not to mention the increased possibility of wax build-up in the ear canal.
Sinus and pulmonary congestion can affect the results of spirometry tests by affecting the volume and rate of air that an employee is capable of exhaling. Inflammation of the lungs and an excess of mucus can limit an employee’s performance and possibly affect their Respiratory Clearance standing.
Once the testing process is initiated, the employer is responsible for the results.
We are obligated to test any employee that steps into our mobile medical testing vehicles.
If our testing detects a Standard Threshold Shift, the employer then has 30 days to re-test the employee. However, many illnesses require more than 30 days to clear, which means that an employee who is sick during the initial testing is likely to still be sick during the re-test.
If the re-test confirms the shift, the employer is now required to file it as part of their OSHA 300 Log. In cases where the employer suspects that the shift was caused by a non-work-related illness, they have to call in an Audiologist to examine the results of both the test and the employee’s “Workplace Determination” questionnaire – at their own expense – to get it removed. The “Workplace Determination” questionnaire asks employees to gauge their medical status such as ear pain, drainage, fullness, wax, impaction, and allergies; as well as to provide information regarding their exposure to work-related and non-work-related noises.
Sometimes it’s better to wait to test sick employees.
We understand the urge to complete all of the tests in a single session, but given what is at stake for the employer, sometimes it is better to wait.
In these situations where an employee might be too sick to test, employers have several options. If we have already scheduled a “pick-up” session to test employees who were absent for the initial day, or, in the case of large companies, we have multiple sessions scheduled, we can perform that employee’s test at that time.
The employer might also consider sending the employees who were unable to be tested during our visit off-site. The number of employees sent off-site should be small enough that it won’t negatively impact the overall time, productivity and cost benefits offered by mobile medical testing.
Maintaining communication with employees can ensure testing accuracy.
Knowing your employees and communicating with them is critical to preventing illnesses from affecting the results of Audiometric Testing and Respiratory Clearances.
Mobile medical testing is often scheduled several months in advance, which gives employers plenty of time to inform employees of what to expect and what they should do if they believe they are too sick to be tested. It is important that the employer assigns someone to oversee this awareness campaign. It typically is the responsibility of the Safety Director or the Human Resources Director. In smaller companies that don’t have these positions, the responsibility should go to Managers and Supervisors.
It is also important for employers to assign someone to oversee the process on their behalf. From an operational standpoint, this ensures that the testing process runs smoothly. It also gives the employer another opportunity to prevent sick employees from being tested.
As with any kind of testing – whether it’s academic, performance or medical – if the people taking the test feel low, they’ll perform low. Once the testing process is initiated, there is a risk that non-work-related illnesses could end up being recorded on your OSHA 300 Log. Once they are part of your official record, they come with associated penalties, and the process of removing them comes with its own costs. The solution is for employers to remain vigilant of the symptoms and maintain communication with the staff to prevent sick employees from triggering “false-shifts” in the first place.
If OSHA requires testing for your industry, contact us today to request a quote and learn more about the advantages of mobile medical testing.