The CDC estimates that 22 million workers in the United States face occupational noise hazards while on the job. Workers in farming occupations are especially vulnerable. Keep reading to learn about these unique hazards, plus some steps you can take to protect your hearing.
How the Human Ear Works
The human ear is comprised of three segments: the outer, middle and inner ear. The outer portion is the visible structure we can see. It surrounds the opening of the ear canal, which channels sound vibrations down to the middle ear. Those vibrations travel through the ear drum and three smaller bones in the inner ear.
A small connective tissue membrane links the middle ear bones to the cochlea, a nautilus-shaped organ filled with fluid. When it vibrates from sound, it activates the inner ear’s hair cells. These cells translate sound vibrations into neurological signals that travel to the brain through the auditory nerve. The brain then interprets these signals as sound.
Excessive Noise and Hearing Impairments
Exposure to loud noise is a frequent cause of hearing loss in agricultural workers. Loud noise affects the inner ear in several ways:
- Hazardous sound overstimulates the cochlea and hair cells.
- Hair cells may flatten or die off in response to the noise.
- These hair cells may not regenerate.
Fewer hair cells mean a reduced ability to change sound into neurological signals. Without these signals, our brain has less meaningful data about sounds in our atmosphere. As a result, we may perceive muffled sounds or no sound at all.
The CDC reveals that hearing impairments affect 15% of workers in farming, forestry, fishing and hunting occupations. Damage to inner ear structures can come from sudden loud sounds or sustained levels of excessive noise. Such noise can come from both equipment and livestock.
Like construction and factory equipment, farm machinery can produce a lot of noise. Agricultural workers face a higher risk of noise exposure while operating this machinery, but even nearby workers can be impacted. Several types of farm equipment are common culprits:
- Tractors and lawnmowers
- Combines and harvesting equipment
- Chainsaws and leafblowers
- Grain grinders and driers
- Crop-dusting aircraft and orchard sprayers
Farm animals can make noises that are much louder than even machinery. Let’s put this into perspective: Volume levels of 70 decibels or less are considered safe for human ears. Tractor noises can range between 74 and 112 dB. Pig squeals can reach up to 115 dB.
How To Protect Your Hearing at Work
Even in loud environments, you can still take measures to reduce your risk of hearing loss. Wear personal protective equipment such as ear plugs or ear muffs. Check their Noise Reduction Rating, which reflects the number of decibels by which they will reduce the noise level that reaches your ears. You should also ask your employer about workplace safety measures it has in place to minimize noise and protect workers’ hearing.
Excessive noise is a serious workplace safety issue. HEAR Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Pasadena-area residents achieve the best possible hearing outcomes. Schedule a consultation or get your questions answered by calling (626) 734-6555.
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