Farmer riding a crawler tractor while wearing noise-free headphones to protect his hearing

Hearing Loss Among Farmers and Agricultural Workers

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the second most common occupational injury and the greatest cause of permanent hearing loss in Australia. This is especially true for industries like farming and big agriculture, where workers are continuously exposed to loud noises from everyday machinery and equipment.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss in Agriculture

According to the National Rural Health Alliance Inc., “Over half of Australia’s farmers are likely to suffer from premature hearing loss through occupational noise exposure (e.g. from agricultural machinery).” Furthermore, they write that “Almost all farmers over the age of 55 who have been exposed to loud noise suffer some degree of hearing loss, but only 18% of farmers wear hearing protection while working with heavy machinery.”

Loud farm machinery and equipment generally falls in the 80 to 120 dB (decibel) range. For instance, while idling, a tractor produces around 85 dB, whereas a tractor in use averages around 100 dB. Sounds of 85 dB or higher can significantly damage hearing, and without adequate hearing protection a farmer operating a tractor could experience hearing loss in as little as 2 hours. Given that “on average hearing loss occurs 10-15 years earlier than in non-agricultural populations”, according to the National Centre for Farmer Health, early detection and consistent monitoring is key.

Signs you may have hearing loss

The continual use of loud machinery and equipment without proper ear protection in the agricultural industry poses the biggest risks of hearing loss to farmers and workers. For this reason, it’s important to recognize the signs of hearing loss and immediately seek treatment. Some signs of hearing loss may be more apparent than others and can include:

  • Continually asking people to repeat themselves
  • Avoiding social events because the noise and overlapping conversations make it difficult to hear
  • Struggling to follow conversations because of missed words
  • Struggling to remember details after the fact even when you were actively paying attention
  • Needing to turn the volume up on the television, radio, or other audio devices
  • Not hearing people when they try to get your attention, or people needing to gesture broadly or tap you on the shoulder first
  • Hearing a constant ringing, buzzing or whooshing sound in your ears

You can read about more signs of hearing loss in loved ones over at our blog: How to Know if Your Loved One Has Hearing Loss.

Ways to prevent hearing loss in the workplace

That being said, oftentimes exposure to loud noises in the farming and agriculture industry cannot be avoided. However, there are ways you can protect yourself from hearing loss and safety standards that employers are required to enforce to reduce the risk of noise-related injury in the workplace:

  • Wear proper hearing protection, and do so consistently
  • Institute sound barriers and source enclosures to isolate loud machinery as much as possible
  • Use sound absorption and insultation wherever possible to dampen noise and reduce echo
  • Limit exposure to loud noises with frequent and adequate breaks
  • Purchase machinery that runs quieter and more efficiently
  • Keep machinery and equipment in good repair

Schedule Frequent Hearing Tests to Detect Hearing Loss Early On

Regular exams are important in monitoring your hearing, and when it comes to hearing loss, it’s important to act sooner rather than later. Only a licensed and trained hearing care specialist can accurately detect and diagnose hearing loss. Again, because hearing loss occurs sooner agricultural communities, we at ihear suggest farmers and farm workers receive a hearing test as soon as they start to notice changes in their hearing. Your local ihear clinic can provide you with a comprehensive approach to protecting your hearing on the job as well as proper hearing protection equipment.

With locations throughout Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales, we invite you to find an ihear clinic near you. Give us a call today to schedule your free hearing check or find a clinic near you.