Hearing loss is permanent and irreversible. For farmers working around combines, dryers, augers and other equipment with high noise levels, the potential for harm without proper protection is immense.
Any noise that leaves you with ringing in the ears or a temporary reduction in your hearing is TOO LOUD! If you are in a noisy location and you have to raise your voice above a normal speaking voice just to be heard, the noise is TOO LOUD!
How is noise measured? The loudness of sound levels is measured in units of “decibels,” abbreviated as dB or dBA. Sound levels are measured with sound level meters. While these units are expensive, there are now multiple smartphone apps that can provide an estimate of sound levels. Sound levels under 85 dBA are generally thought of as “safe,” although there is some risk of hearing loss for prolonged exposures to 80 dBA.
Exposure to noise for agricultural workers can be controlled in many ways, including:
- Reduce sound levels. When selecting new equipment, ask about sound levels and pick the quietest option.
- Perform routine equipment maintenance. For example, fixing mufflers on engines, lubricating bearings, and replacing worn parts will reduce noise levels and improve farming operations.
- Isolate yourself from noise. Working in motorized equipment equipped with cabs or enclosures will reduce noise exposure. Open tractors, loaders, and ATV exposure operators to more noise than similar equipment with enclosed cabs.
- 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 ear plugs are the next best option but these require proper insertion to be effective: roll them up, insert into the ear, hold in place while they expand to fill the ear canal.
- 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.
- Limit daily exposure duration. Reducing the amount of time you are exposed to noise can limit its harmful effects. The table below shows how the “safe” exposure duration to noise decreases with increasing noise exposures. These times indicate the maximum amount of time someone can be safely exposed to noise when NOT wearing hearing protection.
- Are you using job-appropriate hearing protection? Match protection to decibel levels of exposure.
- Are you using hearing protection sized/fitted for your body?
- Are you inserting foam protection with clean hands?
- Are you inserting/placing PPE on correctly? Some foam plugs should be rolled.
- Are you updating used/old PPE that is no longer effective?
- Are you cleaning reusable PPE, like ear muffs?
- Are you performing routine maintenance on equipment to reduce excess noise? (such as rattling/clanging)
- Are you limiting exposure to hazardous levels of noise?
- Are high noise areas marked with warnings or signage?
- Are employees trained on PPE use?
- Are you storing PPE near machinery or areas where it should be worn?
- Have you had your hearing tested?
You and/or your employee(s) can download and print a PDF Hearing Checklist to complete safety checks on your farm. Keep the completed forms for follow-up, future reference and inspections.