Prevent Hearing Loss in Agricultural Jobs

Help protect hearing by avoiding activities that include high decibel noise or wear hearing protection during the activity to prevent irreversible damage.

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by Baker County Tourism
Cutting oats at Hedge Rose Farms in Halfway, Ore.

It’s so important to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Those of us who grow up in or work in an agricultural setting are exposed to very high levels of noise when we complete many of our tasks. Because of that, we have a significant risk of developing some type of hearing loss by the time we’re 30 years old.

Nearly 30% of the people in the agriculture industry experience this type of hearing loss, which is referred to as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Which Farm Activities Cause Hearing Loss?

Researchers have learned that, without the use of hearing protection, activities such as riding a tractor without a cab, exposure to grain dryer noise, and participating in shooting sports could lead to permanent hearing damage.

Additional activities that put people at risk for hearing loss include snowmobile riding, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, and woodworking tools.

NIHL can occur when exposure to loud sound occurs briefly or when we’re exposed to loud noise over extended periods of time. In both instances, the noise can damage sensitive structures in the inner ear, leading to NIHL. The damage may or may not be immediately detected. Hearing may be damaged in one or both ears, and generally is irreversible.

Decibel Ranges

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dBA). Normal conversation occurs at decibel levels of 60-70 and exposure to these sounds are not likely to result in hearing loss. When sounds are at or above 85 dBA, long or repeated exposure to this sound can cause loss of hearing ability.

Some common sound decibel levels include:

  1. Movie theater – 74-104
  2. Motorcycles and dirt bikes – 80-110
  3. Music at maximum headphone volume, sporting events and concerts – 94-110
  4. Sirens – 110-129
  5. Fireworks show – 140-160

Prevent Farm Job-Related Hearing Loss

Distance from the sound and the length of exposure are important factors in hearing protection. A general rule to help protect hearing is to avoid activities that include high decibel noise or at least consistently wear hearing protection during the activity.

Because most of us don’t carry decibel meters with us, using hearing protection is our best defense against hearing damage. You can download apps to your smart phone to measure noise levels. Depending on the level of noise involved, use of a variety of hearing protection devices may be the best practice.

In selecting hearing protection, look at the NRR (noise-reduction rating) on the device. That number, ranging from 0 to 30, verifies the level of noise reduction the device provides. Higher values mean greater noise reduction.

It’s helpful to try different devices to find those that work best for you. What works for one person may not be suitable for someone else. After selected, store the hearing protection device at a convenient location so you’re not tempted to skip using it when you need it.

The cost of hearing protection is relatively low, so implementing the use of these devices won’t have a significant impact on a farm budget. For that reason, it’s recommended to ensure that, if a hearing protection device is worn out or damaged, don’t hesitate to replace it. When our hearing is damaged, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to restore it.

This post was co-written with Aaron Yoder, Associate Professor, Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health, UNMC

Loretta Sorensen writes from her home in southeast South Dakota, where she and her husband raise Belgian draft teams and operate the vintage equipment they use to plant oats and corn each year. She writes on bread baking, gardening, canning, quilting and playing the fiddle. Connect with Loretta on Facebook and Twitter

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