Hearing loss is not just a consequence of old age. Noise induced hearing loss ranks among the top 10 work-related conditions outlined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Agricultural workers experience one of the highest rates of hearing loss caused by loud noises on the farm. Studies have shown that farmers and other agricultural workers may experience substantial hearing loss by the age of 30.
Prolonged exposure to agricultural noises could result in permanent hearing loss unless noise control measures are taken.
COMPONENTS OF THE HUMAN EAR: THE EXTERNAL EAR, MIDDLE EAR, AND INNER EAR
The inner ear is highly susceptible to damage from overall exposure to loud noise. It is composed of hair-like structures that transmit noise messages to the brain by changing mechanical energy to electrical energy. With repeated noise exposure, hair cells are destroyed, causing substantial hearing loss.
WHAT IS SOUND?
Sound is measured in units of decibels, ranging from the softest sounds heard by humans to the most detrimental sounds that will cause hearing loss (See Table 1). There are recommended exposure levels that everyone should follow (See Table 2).
According to a 1981 EPA estimate, 10 percent of the 3.6 million United States farm workers are exposed to average daily noise levels in excess of the 85 decibels. An unknown portion of the additional 11.8 million farm family members, part-time farmers, and hired workers may also be exposed to potentially hazardous noise.
NOISE AFFECTS THE WHOLE BODY
Hearing loss can be prevented. There are a variety of ways to reduce agricultural noise.
Work Schedules Arrange work schedules so that workers don't exceed the noise exposure limit.
Ear Protection If you are continually working in hazardous noise areas, you should wear some sort of hearing protection.
There are two types of protectors that work effectively if worn properly.
Ear plugs and ear muffs do not affect your ability to communicate with others. People around you cannot give verbal warning over the loud noise anyway. Ear plugs do not alter or interfere with a co-worker "getting your attention."
Never use cotton for the purpose of reducing noise exposure; it does not block out high frequency sounds and does not provide protection!
Agricultural work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Whenever possible, safety precautions should be taken.
Though many people are unaware of it, over exposure to loud noises can gradually damage your hearing. Noise induced hearing loss is not like other types of hearing loss--it can be reduced or prevented. Once the damage has occurred, no treatment can correct your hearing.
Note: If you suspect you have some sort of hearing loss, contact your physician or local health department for more information. If you are continually exposed to noise, take all appropriate precautions.
For more information about agricultural safety and health, contact: Project Director, Oklahoma Agricultural Health Promotion System, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, 226 Agricultural Hall, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, Phone: 405-744-5427; or The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226, Phone: 800-35-NIOSH (800-356-4674)
Assistant Extension Specialist, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma University; Project Assistant, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma University.
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More