Nearly 75 percent of all farmers suffer from some hearing loss. That compares with one in 10 people in the general public, according to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health.
The statistics are a reminder that the farm can be a very noisy place, says Kansas State University Extension farm-safety specialist John Slocombe.
Hearing loss can happen gradually, so gradually that it may not be noticeable to the person losing his or her hearing. The loudness and length of time a person is exposed to the noises can cause hearing loss.
On the farm, that means exposure to running engines, squealing pigs or power tools can damage hearing in as little as two hours, unless some type of protection is used to decrease the intensity of sound that reaches the eardrum.
The bad news is that hearing loss is permanent. Once it’s lost, it can’t be recovered. The good news is that it is easy to protect against.
Start by recognizing that many farm noises can be damaging. If any noise is so loud that people must shout to be heard or if a noise hurts your ears, makes your ears ring or reduces your hearing for several hours after exposure, it is too loud and you need to take steps to protect yourself and others, says Slocombe.
Eliminating the noise is the best solution, but since that’s not always possible, hearing protection is a must. Protectors such as ear-plugs and ear-muffs are available at most farm-supply, hardware and discount stores. When properly fitted, plugs and muffs still let you hear conversation and machinery sounds, but at a greatly reduced volume.
An added benefit, Slocombe notes, is that the wearer will feel less fatigued at day’s end.
Look for hearing protection that carries a noise-reduction rating of 25 or higher. If you already have hearing loss, you may want a lower rating that will allow you to hear, he adds. Choose protection that is comfortable and easy to use, so there will be no excuse for not wearing it.
Also, because producers and their employees are continually exposed to loud noises, their hearing should be tested regularly, Slocombe says. An audiogram will reveal even early signs of hearing loss, allowing steps to reduce exposure and stop further damage.