The pipes, the pipes are calling…but can you hear them?

December 06, 2018 in Community

Molly Dulmage, an Environment, Health & Safety safety specialist, suffered serious hearing loss early in life while playing the bagpipes in a band that included other loud instruments. She is a passionate advocate for wearing appropriate hearing protection at work and at home.

Boeing photo

Being raised in a family proud of its Scottish heritage, Molly Dulmage began Highland dancing at age 5 and took up playing the bagpipes at 13. Her love of music included performing in a band with her siblings and friends.

“As a young musician, I was performing or practicing with my pipes and around snare drums almost every day,” said Dulmage, a safety specialist with Environment, Health & Safety (EHS).

Dulmage said that she didn’t wear hearing protection, thinking it would affect the tone and pitch of the instrument. She didn't know until years later that the noise had slowly and seriously damaged her hearing.

“I now look back on my years in the band with a lot of regret,” she said. “Once your hearing is gone, it doesn’t come back.”

Because of the early hearing loss, Dulmage prefers meeting with co-workers in person so she can read their lips as they talk. When watching television at home, she often uses the closed captioning function. She also is a passionate advocate for employees taking steps to reduce the risk of hearing damage at work and at home.

Noise is the most prevalent occupational health hazard at Boeing, according to Mary McDaniel, enterprise audiologist with Boeing Health Services.

“The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable, if appropriate hearing protection is fit properly and worn consistently during high noise exposures,” she said.

Boeing can be a noisy place: drilling, riveting, metal cutting and compressed air use are common in production areas. Signs identify where hearing protection is required throughout the company, and a variety of hearing protection is available, including ear plugs, ear muffs and headsets.

“Access to protection equipment will vary by site, but generally is available throughout production areas at building entrances, point-of-use carts and tool rooms,” said Leah Mickelson, EHS occupational safety and health specialist.

Employees can talk to their managers, EHS industrial hygienists or safety professionals with questions about hearing protection or where hearing protection is required, she said. The Hearing Conservation Program offers regular hearing testing for employees with documented exposures to higher noise levels.

Hearing loss is one of the top 10 injury types in the company, and the rate of hearing-related injuries and incidences at Boeing has not shown the same decrease as other types of injuries. A new safety standard on hearing protection is being developed and is expected to be implemented this summer. It will include elements on both engineering controls and required personal protective equipment.

Mickelson urges teammates not to wait to be told to protect their hearing.

“What is your favorite sound? A river? Your child or grandchild laughing? Imagine not being able to hear it,” she said. “Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone.”

Dulmage hopes people can learn from her experience.

“You don’t need to play in a band,” she said. “A lot of activities are very loud and can damage your hearing. And losing your hearing will affect every aspect of your life.”