HSE Audiometry Categories: What do they mean to me as an employer?

After your employees have had a hearing test they will be assigned an HSE category based on their hearing ability. This may be shown on the ‘fit note’ that you are sent afterwards if you require it. The information below will help you understand what the categories mean and what to do with this information.


Cat 1

Everything is fine. The employees hearing is as good as it should be for their age.


What do I need to do?

  • Carry on as normal. Make sure PPE use and working procedures are being followed in line with your risk assessment.

  • Consider following any advice given on the fit note.


Cat 2

Hearing level is slightly reduced for their age. We call this the ‘warning’ level.


What do I need to do?

  • Carry on as normal. Make sure PPE use and working procedures are being followed in line with your risk assessment.

  • Consider following any advice given on the fit note.


A man in wearimg ear protection.
Early recalls are requested for a number of reasons and are rarely cause for concern.

Cat 3

The employees hearing ability is much lower than it should be for their age. They may be advised to see their GP if they were not already aware of the loss, however, if they have a reason such as wax blockage, a history of working in noisy environments, or bad cold, this may not be necessary. We will sometimes request an earlier recall if they fall in the category.


What do I need to do?

  • Carry on as normal. Make EXTRA sure PPE use and working procedures are being followed in line with your risk assessment.

  • Consider following any advice given on the fit note.


Cat 4

This category will only present if there has been significant loss since the employee's last test (within the last three years). This loss may be caused by; - wax blockage - infection - illness - exposure to loud noise prior to testing - noise induced hearing loss We will request an early recall to try and rule out temporary reduction (known as ‘temporary threshold shift’). If the loss is still present at their recall then we will likely refer the employee to their GP and provide you with advice.


What do I need to do?

  • After first recall, carry on as normal. Make sure PPE use and working procedures are being followed in line with your risk assessment.

  • Consider following any advice given on the fit note.

  • Following the early recall, if evidence suggests their loss is due to noise exposure, it is strongly advisable to check that all H&S procedures are being followed correctly (remember to make a note of what has been checked), look at ways to reduce exposure where possible and make sure you are following the guidance on the HSE website.


Cat U

This category will present if the employee has unbalanced hearing, or ‘unilateral loss’. The employee will usually be referred to their GP if they have not already had it investigated.


What do I need to do?


The first time this category presents for an employee it would be advisable to check if they are working with excessive noise that is only on one side of them, e.g. a factory worker with a noisy machine on their right-hand side who maintains that position for most of the day. If that is the case, check that their exposure is within safe working levels, and consider adjustments where necessary. See the HSE Noise Calculator for further guidance.



Reasons for early recall

Early recalls are requested for a number of reasons and are rarely cause for concern. Reasons may include:

  • The employee has a temporary illness / issue that may be affecting the result of the test.

  • The employee has possible reduction in hearing level and a further test must be carried out. E.g. They may have just had a ‘temporary threshold shift’ from being around something loud before the test.

  • The test environment was deemed too noisy to get an accurate reading.

  • The employee has an issue that needs to be looked at by a senior clinician.


What to do with this information

In the majority of cases, you do not need to take any specific action unless a recommendation is made on a fit note which you should consider. Your Occupational Health provider will keep comprehensive records and track each employee's results over time.


It may be useful to track the audio categories against department or job role information to monitor for area or job specific issues if they arise. For example, if several employees in department X were showing early signs of hearing loss after the introduction of a new machine, it would be a good prompt to reassess the efficacy of health and safety measures in that department.

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