Farm safety is an important issue here in Iowa, and hearing safety is an important part of farm safety. Many people think that hearing loss is mostly associated with getting older, but for farmers, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) starts early.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 25-year-old farmer can often have the hearing ability of a 50-year-old non-farmer and not even know it. Ironically, many farmers don’t want to wear hearing protection for safety reasons: they are afraid they won’t be able to hear others calling them, or hear the telltale sounds that alert them that their machinery isn’t operating properly if they are wearing hearing protection.
But, without good hearing protection, NIHL often destroys a farmer’s ability to hear those things, and so much more. When Jim Stockman, a farmer of 50 years, found his hearing loss was costing him his ability to communicate with his family, he came to Concept by Iowa Hearing Aid Centers for help. This is his story.
Risk Areas for Farmers
Farmers should identify the farm activities that put hearing at risk and take steps to reduce that risk. Decibel (dBA) levels under 85 dBA are generally thought to be safe, although there is some risk of hearing loss for prolonged exposures to 80 dBA.
Preventive Measures for Farmers
To prevent hearing loss among farmers, the University of Iowa, Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, recommends the following:
1. Reduce sound levels. When selecting new equipment, ask about sound levels. Pick the quietest option.
2. Perform routine equipment maintenance. Fix mufflers on engines, lubricate bearings, and replace worn parts to reduce noise levels and improve farm operations.
3. Isolate yourself from noise by working in motorized equipment equipped with cabs or enclosures that reduce noise exposure. Open tractors, loaders, and ATV exposure operators to more noise than similar equipment with enclosed cabs.
4. Use personal protective equipment. Since purchasing newer, quieter equipment is not always an option, use hearing protection when working in noisy settings. The earmuff style offers the best protection and is easy to use. Expandable earplugs are the next best option.
5. Mark “HIGH NOISE ZONE” anywhere there is risk of excessive noise exposure. Have a set of earmuffs or earplugs in or near every high noise setting on the farm.
6. All hearing protection equipment has a “Noise Reduction Rating”, or “NRR”, usually between 15 and 30 decibels. Choose the hearing protection with the highest NRR value.
7. Limit daily exposure duration. Reducing the amount of time you are exposed to noise can limit its harmful effects.
Early Hearing Screenings for Farm Workers Pay Off
Farm workers should have yearly hearing screenings starting as young adults. These small investments in protective equipment and hearing health screenings will improve farm safety over time and preserve quality of life for years to come.