Research shows that farmers experience greater hearing loss than people in other occupations. A screening of more than 300 New York farmers found 77 percent had hearing loss, according to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health.
Noise-induced hearing loss starts silently. By the time a farmer or those around him/her notice an impairment, the damage may be permanent, says John Slocombe, farm-safety specialist at Kansas State University. Hearing loss is caused both by volume and exposure length to loud noises.
On the farm, exposure to engine noise, loud animals or power tool motors can damage hearing in about two hours, unless some type of hearing protection is used. Hearing protection reduces the sound intensity that reaches the ear drum.
Slocombe offers these tips for saving your hearing:
Try to control sounds around you. Keep machine parts well lubricated. Replace worn, loose or unbalanced chains, belts and other moving parts. Exchange faulty mufflers. Whenever possible, use machines with cabs and keep windows closed.
Reduce exposure to noise. Earmuffs and ear plugs block dangerous noises but still allow you to hear. Look for hearing protection with a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 25 or higher. If you already have hearing loss, you may want a slightly lower rating so that the plugs or muffs don’t prevent you from hearing at all.
Choose comfortable, easy-to-wear protection so that doesn’t become an excuse for not wearing it. Always read the label and follow directions for proper use. You’ll likely feel much less fatigued at day’s end — because sound increases fatigue.
Anyone who thinks he/she might have hearing loss should be examined by a certified audiologist. An audiologist can determine the amount and severity of hearing loss.
Because farmers are continually exposed to hazardous noises, they should have their hearing tested regularly, Slocombe says.