Shooting season highlights hearing risk

Talking Point

Carl Booth, David Ormerod Hearing Centres

Farmers have a higher incidence of hearing loss than those in other occupations.

Noise generated by agricultural machinery can be hazardous, with old tractors, grinders, power tools and even animals capable of emitting sound levels far in excess of the safety limit of 85 decibels (dB). As a result, 70% of farmers have less than normal hearing for their age, research reveals.

According to the Health & Safety Executive, the limits which must not be exceeded are 87dB for daily exposure, and 140dB for peak noise. 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.

In older cabs and tractors with roll bars, however, levels may be as high as 85dB. A number of pigs in an enclosed area can create noise levels of 100dB, while wood chippers are likely to operate at 120dB when processing timber waste.

Another risk is posed by gunshot and, with the pheasant shooting season now in full swing, shooters could also be in danger. So, if you’re a shooter, you could be pumping more than 120 decibels down your ear canals every time you pull the trigger.

The ear is an extremely delicate instrument that houses thousands of sensory hair cells. These simply wear out when subjected to loud noise for prolonged periods.

Ear plugs and muffs both provide good protection. But professionals or enthusiasts should consider custom casing with noise-cancellation software.

Prolonged exposure to loud noise can result in permanent hearing loss. The first sign of damage is an inability to hear higher pitched sounds. But continued exposure to the noise means being unable to tell musical tones apart. Eventually, the ability to hear normal conversation is impaired. The prolonged nature of the noise means that hearing loss is usually gradual.

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.

Some farmworkers are reluctant to wear hearing protection because they are concerned that 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.

It is every farmer’s responsibility to ensure their workers are not exposed to excessive noise levels, whatever task they are completing.

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.

Carl Booth is a specialist at David Ormerod Hearing Centres

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