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Noise: Keeping It Down on the Farm

A Tip Sheet for Parents of Children Who Live or Work on a Farm

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Why protect your hearing?

Noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Is preventable.
  • Is permanent.
  • Can get worse over time.

How to protect your hearing:

  • Wear hearing protectors,
    such as earplugs or
    earmuffs.
  • Move away from the noise.
  • Lower the volume.

Some people may think a farm is a quiet place, but if you live or work on one, you know that isn’t always the case. Combines, tractors, and even farm animals can create a noisy environment that puts your hearing at risk. The following tips can help parents teach children who live or work on a farm how to prevent hearing loss from too much noise, called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Children ages 8 to 12 (tweens) are at a great age to start learning healthy hearing habits that can protect their hearing for life.

Be aware of hearing safety

Too much noise gradually damages tiny sensory cells in your inner ear, causing noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. The damage may not be noticeable at first, but once it occurs, the hearing loss is permanent. The louder the sound, the more likely that damage will occur. The distance between you and the sound and the amount of time your ears are exposed to the sound also matter.

Sound is measured in units called decibels. The softest sound that healthy ears can hear is 0 decibels—near total silence. By comparison, a whisper measures 30 decibels, and normal conversation measures 60 decibels.

Scientists recommend that hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs, be worn when a person’s ears are exposed to noises at or above 85 decibels for a prolonged period of time.

Be alert to potentially damaging sounds on the farm.

  • A tractor with a closed cab, on average, can expose the operator to noise levels of about 85 decibels. Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss.
  • A tractor without a cab, a woodshop, or pig squeals can reach 100 decibels or higher—roughly the same noise level as a snowmobile. No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at or above 100 decibels is recommended.
  • Grain dryers and chain saws can reach 110 decibels or higher, about the same noise level as a rock concert. Regular unprotected exposure of more than 1 minute to sounds that are 110 decibels or higher risks permanent hearing damage.

Take steps to reduce noise from machinery.

  • Keep machinery running smoothly by replacing worn parts. Be sure engines are well lubricated and properly tuned to reduce noise from friction or vibrations.
  • Put barriers between you and the noise, such as an acoustically designed cab on ride-on equipment or an insulated engine cover or barrier on stationary equipment.
  • Install noise-reducing mufflers on engines.

Work smart

  • Plan your work area and routine to limit your time near noise.
  • Turn machinery off when it is not needed.
  • Use idle or lower speeds whenever possible.
  • Position machinery away from other work spaces.

Help protect your family from excessive farm noise.

  • Be aware of noise levels that put hearing at risk. If you are running a piece of farm equipment and you have to shout to be heard over the noise, then you should likely be wearing hearing protectors. Any noise that leaves you or your child feeling nervous or fatigued, or that leaves a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears, is too loud for any length of time without hearing protectors.
  • Get comfortable hearing protectors and get comfortable using them. Hearing protectors reduce harmful levels of sound. Although carrying on a conversation may be more difficult in some situations, you will still be able to hear warning signals, which is very important for safety. Try out earmuffs before you buy them to ensure that the fit is right. Wear earplugs or earmuffs in and around the house so you become comfortable and familiar with how things sound when you are wearing them. For more information on selecting hearing protectors for children, read Sound Advice on Hearing Protection for Young Ears (http://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/parents/Pages/soundad.aspx).
  • Point out situations where family members should practice hearing safety. Remind your child to do chores or other activities away from noisy equipment, or to wear hearing protectors when the chore involves noisy equipment. Read Teachable Moments about Healthy Hearing (http://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/parents/Pages/moments.aspx) to learn about more opportunities to discuss hearing safety.
  • Post signs in potentially noisy areas. Use signs to identify work areas or equipment for which hearing protectors are essential.
  • Keep hearing protectors on hand in potentially noisy areas. Ask family members to wear them whenever they are in these areas. Equipment may start up without notice or emit a sudden blast of noise. Very loud noises, even if they last for only a short time, can cause immediate hearing damage.

Hearing safety is an important part of farm safety.

The North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks were developed by the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety to help parents determine when children ages 7 to 16 can safely handle different farm chores. They advise the use of hearing protectors for certain chores that may put children’s hearing at risk. Find out the chores for which hearing protection is recommended at http://www.nagcat.org.

By taking some basic safety precautions and being a positive role model, you can teach your tween how to have healthy hearing for life. At the same time, you also will be protecting your own hearing from NIHL.

Decibel values for farm noises were obtained from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website, the National Agricultural Safety Database, and various state Cooperative Extension Service publications. Note that decibel values can vary widely according to many factors, including age, make, and model of the machinery; the operation being performed; and amount of maintenance received. Furthermore, a person just inches away from the source is experiencing much greater decibel levels than someone standing 100 feet away.

For more information about your hearing and hearing loss, contact:
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Voice: (800) 241-1044
TTY: (800) 241-1055
Fax: (301) 770-8977
E-mail: NPInfo@nidcd.nih.gov

NIH Publication No. 11-6431F
July 2011

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