Agriculture is a noisy business. Tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, silage blowers, squealing pigs and guns are just a few of the loud sounds commonly heard on a farm.
Yet many farmers fail to wear ear protection, and multiple studies over the years have indicated that NIHL is a common yet preventable health issue for farmers. According to a 2011 study published in US journal Noise & Health, hearing damage often starts early for children and adolescents who live and work on family farms, with young males most commonly affected. Researchers estimate that 25% of male farmers in the US have developed a hearing loss by age 30, and 50% are affected by the age of 50.
The situation is just as worrying here in Australia. The Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety estimates that up to two thirds of Australian farmers have a measurable hearing loss, or hearing levels 10 to 15 years worse than non-farmers.
So how does this damage occur? Hearing loss in agricultural workers is most often caused by the prolonged and cumulative effects of noise over 85dB, but can also occur instantly following exposure to extreme noise levels of 140dB and over. In many cases, this damage cannot be undone.
The good news is that NIHL is preventable. If you work on a farm or in any noisy environment, we recommend the following:
- Wear ear protection. This first point is the most important! When working with noisy equipment, make sure to wear either earmuff style protection or earplugs. If you choose earplugs, we recommend having them professionally moulded by a hearing clinician to ensure maximum protection.
- Reduce sound levels where possible. When in the market for new equipment, ask about sounds levels and choose the quietest machinery possible.
- Ensure all farm equipment is well maintained. Old machinery can be noisy. Replace worn parts and take care of your equipment to reduce noise levels.
- Use signs to indicate high noise areas. By marking noisy areas with “HIGH NOISE ZONE” signs, workers will be reminded to use their ear protection.
- Limit daily exposure and take breaks. Reducing the amount of time you are exposed to loud noise can really help curb its harmful effects. If this isn’t possible, take regular breaks from work to give your ears a chance to recover.