If a worker is having difficulty working because of hearing loss, a workplace assessment from a workplace rehabilitation provider will help address any risk factors and assist in facilitating recommended improvements. The worker can talk to their doctor or employer to arrange a workplace assessment.
Workplaces are required to ensure that workplace barriers are removed so that skilled people with hearing loss are able to do their job and work safely .
If the hearing loss is due to a workplace injury, some workplace adjustments may be considered reasonably necessary treatment1 and paid for by the insurer. Workplace adjustments can also be paid for by JobAccess if not due to a workplace injury.
Workplace adjustments for hearing loss toolkit
For most workers with hearing loss, hearing devices will improve hearing but not to the level that might be considered ‘normal’. For this reason, many workers will look for visual cues to help them interpret conversations.
The most effective communication with a worker with hearing loss occurs when both parties to the conversation play their part to make sure that the message is heard correctly and understood.
Ask the worker how they prefer to communicate to ensure the communication is effective, and what strategies work best for them.
- Call the worker by name to attract attention or perhaps use a gentle touch to help
- Don’t begin talking until the worker knows he/she is being spoken to and is facing you
Face each other
- Don’t cover your face (or mouth) while speaking
- Where possible, keep facial hair trim so that moustaches and beards don't interfere with lipreading
- When speaking to a worker, ensure your face is in good light to give the worker the best chance of lipreading and interpreting facial expressions
Avoid background noise
- Close doors and windows to help reduce background noise or move to a quieter area
- Talk normally, a little slower and not exaggerating lip movements
- Don’t shout
- Be aware that unfamiliar accents are often particularly difficult to understand
- Keep sentences short and avoid slang and jargon if possible – keep these for written communication
- Get to the point
- Sometimes key words are missed. Try rephrasing by saying the same thing by using different words. If it doesn’t work write it down
Use communication systems that don’t rely on verbal communication
- Demonstration to explain new tasks
- Email or other visual/text base channels
- Flashing lights/vibrating alerts to supplement auditory alarms
- Encourage the worker to use SMS (with vibrate function to alert message in) for mobile phone communication
- Signals to spell out words or communicate a command (alpha bravos codes etc)
- Ask for any special requirements as a standard inclusion in all invitations
- Discuss with the worker their preferred place to sit to enable them to participate most effectively in the meeting/training event. The person may choose a central position and/or towards the front of the room during meetings if hearing is almost the same in both ears or position with their ‘better’ ear towards the source of the sound. They may also choose to sit off to a side to enable them to angle to turn to see the whole room easily
- For teleconference/online meetings use the video and captions whenever possible
- Supply agendas notes and presentations in advance of all meetings and provide written notes quickly after meetings
- Provide transcripts - available through various software applications
- Use visual aids
- Use a microphone in all meetings so ALL can hear
- Meeting etiquette – speak one at a time and each use the microphone
- Use appropriate equipment
Subject to the technical functionality of the worker’s hearing devices, some of the following systems are likely to be helpful.
For workers WITH hearing devices
- Direct transmission to the worker’s hearing devices, use Bluetooth or other wireless means to transmit directly to the worker's hearing devices
- Specialised headset with telecoil (T Switch) functionality2
- Amplified phone
- Hearing loop system (preferable) or FM system with wireless microphones (with both neckloops and headsets) in meetings
- Personal Assistive Listening System (FM system) for one on one discussions
- Vibrating pager for emergencies (fire, evacuation etc)
- National Relay Service (NRS)3
- Captions on all videos/tv/online clips4
- Neckloop for use with computer audio
For workers WITHOUT hearing devices
- Anchored desk/workstation to a place that has reduced background noise and to position their “better ear” towards the source of the sound and where light will facilitate rather than hinder lipreading
- Consider ways to structure shifts/teams to reduce the burden of trying to lipread new people every day
- Use of a mirror next to the worker’s desk/work area to improve situational awareness and getting the worker’s attention
- Use of acoustic panelling/sound absorbing surfaces, floors, walls furniture in workplaces including offices and vehicles
- Use appropriate communication techniques and equipment as outlined above and ensure co-workers are aware (through training) of communication techniques that can assist and support their colleague
- Changes to the role (permanent or temporary) including swapping telephone or other hearing dependant tasks for alternative duties
- Flexible work practices to accommodate for any fatigue associated with higher concentration when working using primarily speech-based communication
- Flexible work practices to allow working in a quieter environment
- Change to a more suitable role in another part of the business if workplace adjustments cannot be set up.
- Increased support from manager
- Structured peer support
- Changes to the recruitment and selection processes to accommodate hearing loss
Workplace adjustment definition and requirement
Workplaces are required to ensure that workplace barriers are removed so that skilled people with hearing loss are able to perform the inherent requirements of their positions8 and work safely. To facilitate this, employers are required to provide reasonable adjustments within the workplace whenever it is necessary, reasonable, and possible to do so.
In addition to facilitating workplace performance and safety, workplace adjustment has a social wellbeing and mental health aspect. It is common for people who are having difficulty communicating due to hearing loss to avoid or withdraw from social interactions with their colleagues, if it becomes “all too hard”. This can lead to isolation from their colleagues and have an impact on mental health.
Understanding hearing loss
One in six Australians is deaf or hard of hearing and it is estimated that this number will rise to one in four by 20509. Exposure to noise is the most common cause of work-related hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur over time and sometimes remains unnoticed, as compensatory techniques are often used, like avoiding talking in noisy places.
Hearing aids don't work in the same way that glasses do. Even with amplification, many workers will still have difficulties hearing everything. Different workers will have different levels and types of hearing loss:
- some may be fine with hearing deep sounds but not higher sounds or vice versa
- some may have difficulties with both ears
- some may only have a hearing loss in one ear.
Living with hearing loss can be tiring, stressful and embarrassing.
Common effects of hearing loss at work
They may have difficulties with:
- picking up the details of a spoken conversation, especially:
- where there is background noise
- in large groups
- via telephone
- identifying workplace hazards if only auditory alerts are provided
- picking up on subtle social “cues" based on tone of voice, low volume speaking or others (although they may be excellent readers of ‘body language’)
- getting to know new people and surroundings, thus easily becoming isolated10.
If the communication is not inclusive, the worker may guess the message resulting in miscommunication.
Making the workplace inclusive
Communication is a whole of site issue – the workplace is a system of interacting people – not just an individual. Hearing awareness training is important and where possible should be done by representatives from the hearing sector as they have a good understanding of what living with hearing loss is like and can translate that knowledgeably to workers and colleagues in an induction/ training program. Contact JobAccess or Hearing Matters Australia for more information.
An inclusive workplace will ensure that the worker feels sufficiently comfortable to make their communication needs known and does not feel that needing help to communicate is a sign of weakness or reduced worth in the organisation.
Hearing Services/related links
Assessment, training and support
1. Under Section 53 of the 1998 Work Injury Management Act
2. T switch enables people with hearing devices (hearing aids, cochlear implants, Bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA), etc) to pick up a clear signal directly from a hearing loop, neckloop or other device with Telecoil functionality
3. Network access must be provided to allow both these sites to operate on the user’s computer
4. Use real time closed captioning – automated captioning is available through various software applications. Alternatively, it can be provided for in-person meetings by a real-time captioner either in person or remotely and needs to be pre-arranged
5. Use real time closed captioning – automated captioning is available through various software applications. Alternatively, it can be provided for in-person meetings by a real-time captioner either in person or remotely and needs to be pre-arranged
6. Use real time closed captioning – automated captioning is available through various software applications. Alternatively, it can be provided for in-person meetings by a real-time captioner either in person or remotely and needs to be pre-arranged
7. Network access must be provided to allow both these sites to operate on the user’s computer
8. Disability Discrimination Act 1992
9. Australian Network on Disability
10. Acknowledge South Western and Western Sydney National Disability Coordination Officer Program 2013-17 and JobAccess.