R&D Portfolio - Research Goal 1.4 : Develop data management tools for hearing loss prevention programs
Most hearing conservation programs collect data on noise exposures, hearing protectors issued, training provided or completed, and audiograms. However, these data are seldom used in a coordinated and interlinked manner. For example, an audiometric technician may complete an annual monitoring audiogram, but without access to all previous audiograms, the validity of the audiogram cannot be determined and threshold shift cannot be assessed. In addition, information about noise exposures is frequently not accessible; but without access to noise exposure and hearing protector information, the question of whether or not the worker is adequately protected cannot be answered.
The HLR program identified several issues to be addressed in developing a comprehensive data management tool for hearing loss prevention programs. First, data on exposure levels, audiometric thresholds, hearing protector use, training activities, and worker demographics, job history, and relevant exposure and health data should be entered into one database structure. In addition, the structure should have the ability to track equipment calibrations, staff certifications, and other support information necessary to ensure validity of measures within a hearing loss prevention program.
Second, a system of quality assurance is needed to assure validity, particularly of audiometric data. A substantial portion of occupational audiometry is accomplished by mobile service providers who often do not have immediate access to the results of prior tests. In such cases, it is not possible to immediately evaluate the consistency of a current audiogram with previous exams. The HLR program saw the need for a computer program that flags audiograms conducted without reference to previous exams. In addition, problematic exams that require review by an audiologist ought to be flagged by the database.
Third, the management software should be user-friendly and easily searchable to provide a broad range of standard and customized reports. The ability to retrieve data easily and in an interpretable format (including summary graphs and charts) is crucial to the utility of the software as a toll for evaluating program effectiveness.
Following identification of these issues, a CRADA was established between NIOSH; the UAW-Ford Motor Company National Joint Committee on Safety and Health; James, Anderson & Associates; and the Hawkwa Group. The partners exchanged expertise and developed new software that could be applied to employers’ needs. These software capabilities were programmed into HearSaf 2000TM.