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Hearing Loss & the Farmer

by Susan Fenrich

We live in Wisconsin and were proud to claim the title of America's Dairyland, California dreaming notwithstanding. This is the state of tractors, combines, hay balers, corn pickers, harvesters and all the associated equipment that farming requires. Did you know though that farmers rank just behind construction workers in hearing loss?

Photo credit: Penywise from morguefile.com

From the antique model on the above to the modern machine below tractors haven't changed much as far as noise levels are concerned. Given the fact that excessive noise levels are the number one cause of hearing loss it's worth noting the levels farmers work under.

Marjorie McCullagh, associate professor at the University Of Michigan School Of Nursing, said her research project, HEAR on the Farm, indicates that farmers are extremely vulnerable because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn't regulate noise exposure on farms. Farmers are expected to handle those safeguards themselves but many don't. Is it a legitimate concern?

Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

All vintage farm equipment was extremely noisy. However with respect to new models, in a great article for farm workers published by Thomas L. Bean on the Ohio State University website, he states the following:

Although a few models are within the 85dB range, most tractors being tested today, without cabs, still are at or over 91dB. These sound levels undoubtedly increase with age. Other machines such as self-propelled combines, corn pickers, hammer mills and dryers, etc. produce sound levels exceeding 100dB.

Another factor to consider is the historical practice of encouraging farm children in the operation of equipment at very young ages thus greatly increasing the duration of exposure to loud noises.

Photo credit: bluekdesign from morguefile.com

Even the animals can pose a danger to ones hearing. A squealing pig produces high frequency sound levels at or in excess of 100 decibels and a whole pen full multiplies it. Exposure over long periods can result in damage to sensitive ear components that are needed for communication, especially with women and small children.

Just as with any other work environment farmers need to be aware of potentially unhealthy or unsafe working conditions. Unfortunately protecting hearing is often not high on the priority list, even though there are many products available to help protect ones hearing such as custom and non-custom ear plugs, earmuffs, and headsets. Once the noise has damaged the hearing it is permanent. However much can be done to compensate for hearing loss today so if you suspect you may be a victim get your hearing tested soon before the problem gets worse. Today's hearing aids can help you hear, while at the same time reduce the sound of the farm machinery as it comes into your ears through your hearing aids.

Written by: James D. Silvis

The content contributions of Welsch Hearing Aid Company should not be considered by anyone as a substitute for medical or other hearing health professional diagnosis, treatment, advice, or recommendations.