Pardon? Noisy farms producing generation of deaf farmers
Farmers are getting deafer because of prolonged exposure to agricultural machinery, a study has revealed. Old tractors, grinders, power tools and even animals can emit sound levels far above the safety limit of 85 decibels (dB).
As a result, 70% of farmers have less than normal hearing for their age, according to research by the Farm Safety Association. Retired farmer William Griffiths is convinced his hearing loss has been exacerbated by decades of noisy farm work. "The research linking agricultural noise to hearing loss makes perfect sense," said the 84-year-old from Bryn-Yr-Efail, near Caernarfon.
"Since the second world war, farms have become bigger and noisier due to a greater reliance on machines. "Until recently, noise protection was never a consideration because we were unaware of the danger. "And yet, we would spend more than eight hours-a-day driving a tractor or working with silage machines."
The Health & Safety Executive states the noise limit must be 87 dB for daily exposure, and 140dB for peak noise. In older cabs and tractors with roll bars, levels may be as high as 85 dB. Pigs in an enclosed area can create noise levels of 100 dB, while wood chippers are likely to operate at 120dB.
Hearing aid audiologist Carl Booth, of David Ormerod Hearing Centres in Bangor, said: "Prolonged exposure to loud noise can result in permanent hearing loss, unless some type of protection is utilised." He said the first sign of hearing damage is an inability to hear higher pitched sounds. Eventually, the ability to hear normal conversation is impaired too. The prolonged nature of the noise means that hearing loss is usually gradual.
Mr Booth added: "People can get so used to excessive noise that they accept it as a natural part of their working life. "But in fact they are beginning to lose their hearing and they may not realise until it's too late."
Noise induced hearing loss is permanent but preventable. So, during Rural Health Week (September 18-24), David Ormerod Hearing Centres is encouraging Welsh farmers to use hearing protection.
Mr Booth said: "Some farm workers are reluctant to wear hearing protection because they are concerned this will prohibit their ability to hear key sounds that are important for the proper operation of equipment. "But properly fitted hearing protection reduces the noise to a safe level and still permits sound to reach the ears for informational and safety purposes."
Ben Coates, assistant NFU regulatory affairs adviser, said farmers should act.
He said: "Farming is a noisy industry, but modern tractors are legally required to comply to specific noise limits inside the cab and have vastly improved over the last decade. "Some now have noise levels as low as 72dB. "However, it is every farmer's responsibility to ensure their workers are not exposed to excessive noise levels.
"Employers must assess the risks to the employees' hearing and, if necessary, provide them with hearing protection if the noise exposure cannot be reduced enough using other methods."
by Andrew Forgrave, DPW West
Sep 13 2011