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MSU Professor Takes Students Aboard Aircraft Carriers to Research Sound Exposure

Noise-inducing hearing loss is a serious health threat to Navy personnel, that costs the Department of Veterans Affairs over $100 million dollars each year. Dr. Gary Morris, chair of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health in the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Murray State University researches hearing loss in the Navy with his students and joins Kate Lochte on Sounds Good to talk about his work as part of our Racer Scholar Profiles series, which highlights MSU faculty research, scholarly and creative activities across colleges and schools.

Dr. Morris is retired US Navy with a specialty in occupational safety and health. While in the Navy, he served as an industrial hygiene officer for 20 years. He studies the noise levels people work and live with on a carrier. "The VA spends about $127 million dollars each year on new noise claims," he says, adding that this ia very big issue in the Navy and DOD. His research centers on the question, "how can we help the Navy reduce those claims and protect the sailors?" 

Through a grant, Dr. Morris takes groups of students onto aircraft carriers to conduct nose measurement tests. "You can teach noise or any time of theoretical-based instructional activity in the classroom, but I can take them on an aircraft carrier and they can feel the noise and see how it impacts those sailors. They have a better understanding because they're applying that as they're learning it." 

The OSHA standards (90-DBA as 100%) are based on 8-hour exposures. On an aircraft carrier, the sailors experience 24-hour exposures. In their research, they have the sailors wear decimeters for 24-hour periods and found that the magnitude of exposure is incomprehensible, pegged at 10,000%. The implications are not only horrifying for individuals' health, but the VA's budget. As a taxpayer, he says, you have to ask what can be done to prevent that?

Students learn how to use the decimeter and how to calculate the times when it averages for comparison and dosage readings. "Our main goal of the project is to get the Navy talking in one number. We look at what are called time-weighted averages, threshold limit values - a lot of different readings that are very complex to a lay person. And our job as safety and health professionals is to report what we find in a way that the lay-person or the policy maker can make a decision on that."

Dr. Morris adds that he hopes to present numbers in a way that the DoD understands and readings that can be used in a proactive way in making adjustments on the design level. Readings of 10,000% go beyond ear plugs and ear muffs. Research shows that exposure to these levels can cause high blood pressure and can affect a fetus. Even short periods of exposure can have permanent effects on the body.

The next group of students will board the USS Ronald Reagan in May. Dr. Morris says this research is on one type of ship and that there are several ships with several different readings in the Navy and then craft in other branches of the US military. He hopes opportunities open up for students to continue work on a broader scope.

Dr. Gary Morris chairs the Department of Occupational Safety and Health in the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Murray State. His story is the third in our series: Racer Scholar Profiles. We appreciate the assistance of MSU Jesse D. Jones Endowed Professor of Geosciences Dr. Kit Wesler as ambassador for this series. It highlights faculty pursing interesting and productive ideas that advance knowledge or create novel works of art and literature, informing their teaching and exciting students.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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