Ashland resident will receive the National Hearing Conservation Association's Lifetime Achievement Award for her career-long commitment to reducing noise-induced hearing loss among workers.Hardesty is a hearing loss consultant and also serves on the Ashland City Council.

Since establishing the lifetime achievement award in 1999, the NHCA has given the honor to only one other person. NHCA officials will present Hardesty with the award during a hearing conservation conference in Portland scheduled for Thursday through Saturday.

She first began to make a national impact in 1973 as a scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Noise Abatement and Control.

Hardesty played a major role in developing the first national criteria for safe noise levels. Many of her recommendations are still applied today, NHCA officials said.

Later at the U.S. Department of Labor, Hardesty led a team that developed a noise standards document."The impact this document has had on preventing occupational hearing loss is incalculable," NHCA officials said, noting that 25 years after their creation, the noise standards still provide a "safety net" for millions of American workers who are exposed to noise.

Since establishing a consulting practice in 1992, Hardesty has had a national and international impact in shaping hearing conservation policies. She also wrote a manual that has guided the training of virtually every new audiologist and occupational hearing conservationist in the United States, and she serves as a mentor for many professionals in hearing-loss fields, NHCA officials said.

Hardesty said her interest in hearing began when she had a friend in high school who was deaf. As an audiology trainee with the Veterans Administration, she also saw the impact hearing loss had on the lives of Vietnam veterans.

"I saw all these guys coming back from Vietnam with hearing loss from grenades, guns and explosions. I became interested in hearing loss," she recalled, noting that she became concerned about noise impacts on workers as well.

Workers with hearing loss can have difficulty in understanding communication and may endanger themselves and others on the job because they can't hear warning shouts or signals. Hearing loss can also have a profound impact on people's personal lives, Hardesty said.

"They really have to struggle to understand conversations. They can mishear and laugh at the wrong time or give the wrong answer. Sometimes people talk about them as if they're not even there. They tend to isolate and not socialize," she said. "It cuts them off even from their spouse."

Hardesty said workers can protect their hearing on the job by wearing ear protection devices, but sometimes they take off the devices because they are uncomfortable or because they cannot hear their co-workers. Advances such as communication equipment built into earmuffs can help alleviate the latter problem.

Employers can take action by investing in machinery that is more quiet, enclosing loud machines and turning off noisy equipment when it is not in use, she said.

Hardesty said people should not expose themselves to loud noises during their lifetimes and then expect to solve hearing loss with hearing aids. Some people find hearing aids unpleasant and think the devices produce garbled sounds.

Anyone who is considering hearing aids should rent a pair first before committing to a purchase. A good audiologist will try different hearing aids on a patient to find the type that works best for that individual, Hardesty advised.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.