In the Republic of Ireland (ROI), 25% of farmers aged 30, and 50% of farmers aged 50 have some form of hearing loss. Even more shocking is that around 70% of teenagers living on farms show early signs of “noise-induced hearing loss”.
According to a recently published guide to farmer health and well-being from the the ROI's Health and Safety Authority (HSA), hearing in healthy adults stays normal up to about the age of 60 – but farmers’ hearing can be impacted at an earlier age.
All the years of hanging around with tractors, tools, machinery and livestock takes its toll – with this time of year being particularly hard on the hearing.
According to the guide, exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels (dB) over “extended periods of time” can cause permanent hearing loss.
Some of the everyday sounds that we experience on the farm may seem harmless but they can exceed, or come close to exceeding, this threshold.
The HSA guide advises that if noise makes it difficult to hear a person who is 2m away and who is talking in a normal voice, then that noise is at a damaging level.
For example: A quad bike engine produces 86dB; an air compressor can create 80dB; and squealing pigs, according to the guide, can create 100dB.
The HSA’s top tips to keep your hearing in check are:
- Consider the noise levels of machinery before buying;
- Keep doors and windows of tractors and machinery closed while operating them;
- Keep the seals on doors and windows of tractors and machinery in good condition;
- Maintain tractors and other machinery, including exhaust systems, properly;
- Design feeding systems and work in animal and poultry housing to keep noise levels as low as possible;
- Where noise cannot be eliminated, stay away and keep others out of the area;
- If noise levels would make it difficult to communicate with someone less than 2m away, wear hearing protection such as ear plugs or ear muffs;
- Where noise levels are very high, for example if using a chainsaw or angle grinder, consider a combination of ear plugs with ear muffs.