Faces of EHS, Health and Wellness, Injuries and Illness

Faces of EHS: Cassie Ford on Hearing Loss Prevention

Cassie Ford received her B.S in Speech Language Pathology at Texas Christian University and her M.A. in Audiology at the University of Iowa. She started her career in public health and then spent several years doing clinical audiology and fitting hearing aids. In 2000, she accepted a position with the company that is now known as Examinetics, and she has worked exclusively in occupational hearing conservation for the last 20 years. As the manager of audiology services at Examinetics, Cassie leads a team of occupational audiologists who guide a diverse group of clients through their hearing conservation programs and regulatory compliance. 

Examinetics is the largest provider of mobile occupational health services in the U.S. Currently, the majority of the business is providing hearing conservation and respiratory protection services to employers. They also offer other medical surveillance services including x-rays, physician exams, EKGs, blood draws, and vision screening.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Cassie to discuss how she got her start in the industry, the importance of hearing loss prevention, and new hearing conservation technologies.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

Growing up, I saw my father struggle with hearing loss. He was a naval aviator in the ’60s and ’70s and lost a significant amount of hearing due to noise exposure, at least partially because of the lack of hearing conservation programs in the military at that time. When he retired, he started farming. At that time, a fellow retiree started working for the company that became Examinetics in Kansas City, not far from our farm. His Navy buddy, Denny Morrill, shared the importance of hearing conservation with my dad, who then tried to share it with his fellow farmers. His hearing loss got me interested in audiology as a career.

When I got my master’s degree, my dad suggested I look into work for the Kansas City company that Denny worked for. At the time, I was definitely not interested in working full time in occupational audiology. However, after several years in clinical audiology, I figured out that I was tired of selling people a product they didn’t want (hearing aids) for a problem they didn’t want to admit they had (hearing loss). So, I started looking for an opportunity to do work that would help people not have hearing loss and need hearing aids. And what better way to do that than to help companies protect their workers’ hearing? I was lucky enough to get hired by the company that became Examinetics and have dedicated my career solely to hearing conservation since that time.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?

Cindy Bloyer, Au.D., was the head of the audiology department at Examinetics for most of my career.  She, along with the other audiology team members working for the company when I was hired (including Gregg Moore, Kirsten McCall, and Jim Jerome), really taught me almost everything I know about occupational hearing conservation as there was very little emphasis on it in my graduate studies. 

Beyond these specific mentors, I learned so much from being a part of the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA). The diverse group of dedicated professionals from across the safety and health world who are part of that organization have increased my knowledge of, and passion for, this field immensely. I strongly encourage anyone with interest in preventing hearing loss to get involved with NHCA.

Q: What safety concerns or issues do you think need more prioritization in EHS programs?

I will always say hearing conservation and specifically hearing conservation training. Because you cannot see hearing damage like you can see other work-related illnesses/injuries, it tends to get ignored. We take our hearing for granted until we start to lose it and by the time that we notice we lost it, it’s usually too late to stop the damage. There also tends to be a bit of a defeatist attitude around hearing conservation. Employers tend to believe that since they can’t control the loud sounds people are exposed to outside of work that it’s a losing battle.

However, if you can get an employee to understand why it is so important to use hearing protection and how to use it correctly in the workplace, that knowledge can carry over into their life outside of work. In addition, training and knowledge about the dangers of loud sound really needs to start earlier in life, much like education around the dangers of other health hazards such as smoking. People who value their hearing and understand the dangers are more likely to actively protect their hearing both on and off the job.

Q: How will new safety technologies influence the work being done by EHS professionals?

In the field of hearing conservation, there are many exciting new technologies on the horizon, such as medications that can help prevent noise induced hearing loss, improved hearing protection devices that allow better environmental awareness along with providing good protection, and the ability to provide hearing testing in new environments that will make testing more accessible.

In the past, our customers often had to rely on sending their employees off site to clinics if they needed retesting or missed the mobile van testing. With our new Salux audiometric system, customers are now able to perform those follow-up tests onsite. They are saving time away from work, reducing the hassle of transferring data from clinics to the hearing conservation provider, and increasing their ownership of their hearing testing program. This option frees customers up to perform occupational surveillance in whatever way works best for their team—all on their own, all on the mobile unit or a combination of both.

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

My advice for new professionals in health and safety is to join one of the many organizations that focus on this area: AASP, AIHA, NHCA, etc. These organizations are such a great resource of new information in the field and networking opportunities that allow you to interact with the experts. The most important thing in your career is to never stop learning and these organizations help you to keep gaining knowledge.

Also, if you are going to be responsible for a hearing conservation program, I would strongly recommend that you take the Hearing Conservation Manager course that is offered through the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC). This will give you a solid foundation to help build a world-class program. More information about this course can be found here.  

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

My last piece of advice for people who have a hearing conservation program is to make sure that the audiologist or physician you use as the professional supervisor of the program really has a deep knowledge and understanding of occupational hearing loss and the regulations regarding it. Audiologists and otolaryngologists have great knowledge about hearing loss but may not always be as well versed in the occupational safety regulations, while occupational medicine physicians often have excellent knowledge about occupational health and safety but not necessarily about hearing loss.

When searching for your professional supervisor, look for someone who is certified by the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) as a Professional Supervisor of the Audiometric Monitoring Program (CPS/A). A listing of these individuals can be found on the CAOHC website here.

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