The use of hearing at work

Our physical and cognitive demands analyses document how workers use their senses to complete their jobs. When we document that “hearing” is required to compete a task, we’re saying that the worker is using that sense to make decisions about how to proceed. A worker who is deaf would require some type of accommodation, to obtain the information required for that decision. These modifications are rarely so difficult that they restrict a worker from a job, but the demands need to be documented so the employer can ensure that all workers can do the job safely and effectively.

How do people use hearing at work?

Communication is the most obvious and perhaps the most common use of hearing; most workers are required to discuss issues or exchange information with other workers, customers, patients, supervisors, or others. People communicate in-person or virtually, with or without a line of sight to each other. Communication may be fairly simple (Yes/No) or complex (Describe when…). It might be done in a quiet room with no background noise, or in a noisy setting with multiple participants. The variables are almost endless.

Alarms also require workers to respond to sounds. A bell might ring to indicate that a machine needs to be loaded with cartons, or that the roller conveyor is full of boxes that need to be palletized. Alarms may indicate that a crane is passing overhead, or a building needs to be evacuated. When alarms are used to trigger activities, alternative signals need to be developed for deaf workers. Sometimes a visual signal such as a flashing light might be sufficient, whereas other times a wearable device might be more appropriate.

Have you ever described a sound that your car was making to a mechanic who instantly knew what was wrong? Troubleshooting often uses our sense of hearing. Inspectors, machine operators, and health care providers often “listen” to diagnose problems and recommend corrections or next steps. In some cases, amplification of the sound signal may be sufficient to help a deaf worker to succeed in the job. Sometimes workers can “feel” vibration to evaluate issues that most people would hear as “sound”.

Creative arts workers might be responsible for more complex hearing tasks – a deaf sound mixer, musician, or voice coach probably needs more than amplification, sign language, or lip reading to do the job well.

A cognitive demands analysis should identify all of the tasks that use hearing (even when alternative information sources are available), and should describe the complexity of these demands.

If you’re interested, more information about our physical and cognitive demands analysis service is available here.

More information about our PCDA training can be found here

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