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.

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, and permanent, 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. Try to limit your exposure to noises at or above 100 decibels to less than 15 minutes, if you don't have hearing protectors handy.
  • 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.

Help protect your family from excessive farm noise.

  • Be aware of noise levels that put your 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 stressed, or that leaves a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears, is too loud for any length of time without hearing protectors.
  • Get hearing protectors and become 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 and permanent 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. Read the chores for which hearing protection is recommended.

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

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 the amount of maintenance received. Furthermore, a person just inches away from the source is experiencing much higher decibel levels than someone standing 100 feet away.