Training for Hearing Protection Eight years ago, one of the country’s largest freight train companies hired its first full-time audiologist. Since then, she has made the job her own. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   September 01, 2016
Training for Hearing Protection
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   September 01, 2016
Training for Hearing Protection
The ASHA Leader, September 2016, Vol. 21, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.21092016.24
The ASHA Leader, September 2016, Vol. 21, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.21092016.24
Name: Sheryl Foust Morgan, AuD, CCC-A
Title: Manager, occupational audiology, BNSF Railway
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
BNSF Railway employs more than 40,000 people, many of whom work on or around trains. So it made sense when the company decided to employ a full-time audiologist, becoming the country’s first Class I railroad to do so.
BNSF has a long history of working to enhance employee safety—including providing hearing protection and requiring it for certain jobs. The company often goes beyond required safety regulations, so it began searching for someone to oversee the hearing health of employees and improve existing hearing-protection systems. In 2008, they interviewed audiologist Sheryl Foust Morgan.
Morgan had just completed her doctorate, bought a house in Indianapolis and adored her job at the Indiana School for the Deaf. She wasn’t looking for a change, but the challenge of trying something completely new eventually won her over. Once she decided to apply, Morgan went all-in to get the job. She even took the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) Occupational Hearing Conservationist (OHC) class—and passed the test—to make sure she was thoroughly prepared for that big interview.
“I’ve never studied so hard for an interview in my life,” Morgan says. “I’d worked in pediatric audiology for nearly 20 years, so I was really nervous and excited.”
The audiologist also gives some credit to a love for all things “transportation” being in her genes. One grandfather worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber and the other worked for Goodyear Aerospace. Morgan’s diligence—and ancestry—paid off, and she continues to show the same enthusiasm nearly eight years later.

Morgan quickly realized she needed to earn the trust of employees and learn the industry culture before she could change their attitudes about hearing protection.

Changing tracks
Morgan thought the job would mainly involve analyzing results from employee hearing screenings, reducing noise exposure where possible, and selecting appropriate hearing protection—all from BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth. “But because of my educational experience, background and desire to instill change,” she says, “my position evolved a lot more into employee education.”
Though Morgan crunches numbers and manages programs from her desk in Fort Worth, she spends much of her time in the field. She quickly realized she needed to learn the industry culture before she could earn employees’ trust when she talked to them about the importance of protecting their ears.
Morgan primarily works with employees in three areas: operations—people who run the trains, like engineers and conductors; mechanical—those who repair and maintain rolling stock (locomotives and rail cars); and engineering—people who build and maintain infrastructure like tracks, bridges and structures.
The audiologist travels nearly a week out of each month—by plane—to present on hearing-safety issues, visit sites that provide hearing testing, assist with health fairs, and check on the mobile medical program. In addition, Morgan instructs employees on how the ear works, as well as on noise exposure dangers outside of work.
Her job covers more than hearing protection. She also works closely with the industrial hygiene group at BNSF to monitor sound levels in various work settings and uses the information to help create quieter conditions. When Morgan joined BNSF, the company already allocated resources toward reducing noise exposure. “We’re buying quieter locomotive cabs,” she says. “I’ve even been inside cabs that are quieter than my car!”
Getting people on board
Many railway employees still work in noisy settings, however. And Morgan is the sole audiologist serving all of BNSF’s employees. The company’s industrial hygiene group and medical field managers help Morgan handle hearing- and noise-related issues across the 32,500-mile rail network system.
If she learns of an issue in the field regarding hearing or hearing protection, she can ask local BNSF medical department personnel to assess the situation and report back to her with additional information, or ask the employee to contact her directly. She doesn’t do any testing or treatment herself. Employees complete their required occupational hearing tests on mobile vans, at nearby clinics or at large BNSF shops.
According to Morgan, only one other Class I railroad employs a full-time audiologist. The two railroads provide service primarily to different geographic areas. That’s why the two companies “have been so great about letting us share non-proprietary information on what we’re doing and how to improve hearing conservation/preservation for our employees,” Morgan says.
Morgan also feels empowered by BNSF’s safety-conscious culture. For example, employees are encouraged to use company-issued safety gear outside of work. Once employees realize Morgan understands their jobs and the industry—yes, she gets to ride in the locomotives—they readily buy in to what she teaches them.
“My passion is really instilling change in people who before might not understand that the auditory system is just as important as fingers and toes,” says Morgan. “Plus, I get to hand out hearing protection like candy!”
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September 2016
Volume 21, Issue 9