Case Study - RSSB: Digital Hearing Aids for Railway Staff

Client: Rail Safety and Standards Board
Sector: the transport sector
Services delivered: risk management

Digital hearing aid

The issue

Current medical standards place a high reliance on colour vision and hearing for railway safety critical staff (such as train drivers). This is to ensure their own safety when on the operational railway, and to ensure that they are able to perform their duties safely. Unfortunately, this has meant that rail staff who no longer meet the hearing standard have had to move jobs - bad news for both the employee and employer (who has to spend a lot of money training their replacement).

Over recent years, digital hearing aids have become increasingly sophisticated and now offer a wide range of functions and features. The hope was that safety critical staff who do not meet the current hearing standard unaided might, if fitted with a suitable digital hearing aid, be able to continue working safely.

Review scope

RSSB appointed Risk Solutions to lead a review of the latest technology and decide whether safety critical staff could continue in their current roles. To conduct the review we brought together a multi disciplinary team combining risk assessment, audiology, human factors and occupational health expertise. During the course of the project we:

  • Reviewed the technology and testing methods available
  • Assessed which safety critical roles could be conducted safely by someone fitted with a digital hearing aid and developed a safe system of work to ensure that any new risks are managed appropriately
  • Monitored the experience of staff in the railway industry who have started using hearing aids to enable us to refine our recommendations.

Project outcome

This project provided valuable guidance to employers and occupational health advisers on how to introduce digital hearing aids for safety critical staff. The project is expected to deliver significant benefits to the staff concerned, who are currently forced to change job, and their employers, who incur significant costs recruiting and training new staff.