Have you noticed that the older you get, the louder the TV or radio volume needs to be? Do you ever experience “ringing” in your ears? Agricultural workers experience one of the highest rates of hearing loss caused by loud noises on the farm. Studies have shown that farmers and other agricultural workers may experience substantial hearing loss by the age of 30.
How does sound travel?
The human ear is made up of three parts, the inner, middle, and outer ear. All sound is transmitted through the air like radio waves. The outer ear will funnel this sound into the middle and inner ear. Once in the inner ear, these sound waves will cause hair-like cells to move back and forth transmitting this message to the brain. Over time, if exposed to excessive noise levels, these hair-like cells will be destroyed and the damage is irreversible.
You may ask, “How loud is too loud?” Industry best practice says to keep exposures to no more than 90 dbA, or decibels, for more than an 8-hour average. The only true way of knowing the decibel level is by measuring the sound with a sound level meter. However, a good rule of thumb is if a person needs to shout to communicate while standing 3 feet away from another person, the noise levels could be reaching that dangerous level.
Some of the typical sources of excessive noise on a farm include tractors, grain dryers, lawnmowers, milking parlor pumps, chainsaws, and combines. Other sources of excessive noise include radios in the parlor or shop turned up high, the shooting of guns, or the riding of snowmobiles, ATV’s, or motorcycles.
||Faintest sounds heard by ear.
||Whisper, quiet library.
||Normal conversation, typewriter.
||Lawn mower, shop tools, truck traffic; eight hours per day maximum exposure.
||Chain saw, pneumatic drill, snowmobile; two hours per day maximum exposure without protection.
||Sandblasting, loud rock concert, auto horn; 15 minutes per day maximum exposure without protection.
||Gun muzzle blast, jet engine; noise causes pain and brief exposure injures unprotected ears.
How farmers can protect their hearing
Hearing loss can be prevented. There are a variety of ways to reduce agriculture noise on the farm.
- Relocate the shop’s air compressor to a different room from the shop to isolate the noise from employees.
- Limit the amount of time spent in loud environments.
- Always use hearing protection such as earplugs or muffs. Earmuffs are generally more effective at blocking out excessive noise levels than earplugs.
- Arrange work schedules around scheduled times of noise exposure so that workers don’t exceed the exposure limit.
Each type of hearing protection will have an “NRR” or a noise reduction rating listed on the packaging. The higher the number, the more effective they will be at limiting the level of exposure. Although an NRR number of 25 will not equate to a 25 decibel reduction in exposure, it will give the user a good idea as to how effective it will be at protecting one’s hearing. These protectors can be found at a hardware store, farm supply, or retail store in either the sporting goods or safety section. Larger quantities can also be purchased through industrial supply locations.
Take time to identify unsafe behaviors and build a safety program in the workplace. Remember, once a person’s ability to hear is lost, it will never return. Whether excessive noise levels are experienced on or off the job, every person should take care in preserving their ability to hear. To learn more farm safety tips, contact your local Rural Mutual agent.