Daily life on the farm is characterized by high noise levels from squealing pigs, tractors, ventilation systems and other machinery. As a consequence, farmers are particularly vulnerable to loss of hearing. This is reflected in a prevalence of hearing impairment far above the average found in other groups in the labour market, according to an American study. Similar results were found in earlier Swedish studies.
Extreme daily noise levels
In the US study, 5,000 farmers were questioned about their hearing over a period of 10 years. The study found that 92 percent of the farmers were exposed to extreme noise levels while involved in farming activities. As a result, 78 percent suffered from hearing problems, yet only four percent used hearing aids.
Few protect their ears
Using hearing protection in noisy work conditions should be routine. Yet, only 44 percent of the males in the study said they used hearing protective devices on a daily basis. In Sweden 40 percent of male farmers reported that the used hearing protection. Female farmers were much more likely to protect their hearing, with 78 percent of female Swedish farmers reporting that they used hearing protection.
The studies confirmed the importance of wearing hearing protection. Fifty individuals who consistently used hearing protective devices were paired with a group of non-users, and the results showed that significantly less hearing loss occurred among farmers who had worn protectors.
Wearing hearing protection is the most obvious way to prevent hearing damage, but far from the only one. Niklas Adolfsson of the Swedish Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering pointed out that ways to limit the noise include putting sound insulation in the barn and selecting the quietest equipment when purchasing new machinery.
In addition to causing hearing damage the noise may adversely affect farm workers' concentration and contribute to physical exhaustion, stated Adolfsson. The farmers often have to exert more energy in order to perform their tasks in a noisy environment. This can result in other work related injuries, as well.
Typical noise levels on the farm
- Tractor 74-112 dB
- Grain Dryer 81-102 dB
- Combine 80 - 105 dB
- Chainsaw 77 - 120 dB
- Grain Grinding 93-97 dB
- Pig Squeals 85-115 dB
- Orchard Sprayer 85-106 dB
Sources: Hallandsposten; University of Iowa News Services, www.nsc.org