Agriculture has its share of noisy work. It is not uncommon to see 25 percent to 30 percent of participants at farm-related training programs wearing hearing aids.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates 15 percent of people working in agriculture suffer from hearing loss and 36 percent of workers are regularly exposed to noise levels that are likely to cause damage.
Noise can startle you, disrupt your concentration, and interferes with your ability to communicate. As a consequence, it interferes with your job performance and your safety. You can sustain physical effects including loss of hearing, pain, and even nausea when the exposure is severe.
IS NOISE A PROBLEM?
Three factors can be used to determine if noise could be a problem.
- If it is necessary for you to speak in a very loud voice or shout directly into the ear of a person in order to be understood, it is likely that the exposure limit for noise is being exceeded.
- If you have heard noises and ringing noises in your ears at the end of the work day, you are being exposed to too much noise.
- If speech or music sounds muffled to you after leaving work, but sounds fairly clear in the morning when you return to work, there is no doubt about you’re being exposed to noise levels that can eventually cause a partial loss of hearing that can be permanent.
If any of these conditions are occurring a hearing protection program should be developed.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There are two general steps you can take:
- Reduce the total noise being generated.
- Use earmuffs or earplugs as a barrier between your ears and the noise source.
Many times workers resist wearing hearing protection more than any other type of personal protective equipment--they reason that they don’t think they really need it. But hearing loss is gradual and cumulative. Even in intense noise; by the time you realize you can’t hear as well as you used to, the damage has been done and can’t be reversed.
Another common reason workers give for not wearing hearing protection is that they are uncomfortable. Users should be reminded that even a small gap or leak can destroy the effectiveness of the equipment.
ARE THERE REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS?
The state MIOSHA Occupational Noise Exposure standard, Part 380, has been in effect since 1993 and includes, among other items, the establishment of an effective hearing conservation program.
The standard also requires employers to use administrative controls, such as limiting noise exposure through work scheduling or engineering controls, which may include reducing the sound level at its source. If such controls fail to reduce noise levels sufficiently, then employers must provide personal protective equipment to reduce occupational noise exposure to compliance levels.
The standard’s requirements also include monitoring, audiometric testing, employee training, selection and use of personal protective equipment, and recordkeeping. (Note: Some farming operations are also covered by various federal regs, too.)