Tractors, generators, pumps, blowers, chain saws and livestock – all can create loud noise at the farm or ranch workplace. That's why farm families are more vulnerable to hearing loss than workers in other occupations and should take steps to protect themselves.
Numerous studies have found a great deal of hearing loss among farm families, more so than in most other types of work, says Karen Funkenbusch, a University of Missouri agricultural safety specialist. Hearing loss can happen gradually and not be noticeable for some time. Warning signs include a ringing or buzzing in the ears a few hours after completing a task or straining to hear conversations.
"Be sure everyone at home on the farm understands the effects of noise," Funkenbusch says. "Space out or shorten noise-related activities. The louder the noise and greater the length of exposure, the greater the chance of permanent hearing loss."
Anyone in the family having hearing problems should be tested so that these problems can be identified and monitored.
Some kind of hearing protection should be worn when working around loud noise. Earmuffs can be effective if they seal well around the ears. Earplugs are available as pre-formed inserts made of rubber, plastic or foam. Plugs must be cleaned often to prevent ear infections.
Reduce excess noise by keeping machinery and equipment well lubricated and maintained. Tighten all components. Replace defective mufflers and exhaust system parts. Do not use straight pipe exhaust for tractors or other engines. Sometimes noise from stationary equipment can be reduced by enclosing noisy components or enclosing equipment in acoustic barriers. Limit the duration of noise exposure if you are without hearing protection.
If you have questions about farming with hearing loss, contact the Missouri AgrAbility Program at 1-800-995-8053 or visit www.fsb.missouri.edu/agrability/.