May Alert

Did you know that an estimated 20% of Americans suffer from some variation of hearing loss?  That is almost 50 million people in the United States alone!  There are even more people that have tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.  By age 65, it is believed that 60% of Americans will have a hearing disability.  Hearing loss is the 3rd most prevalent health concern behind arthritis and heart disease.  There are many side effects to hearing loss:  irritability, depression, withdrawal from social activities, fatigue, and memory loss, to name a few.  There are even some studies that show as hearing loss increases, income decreases.  While hearing disabilities are extremely common, the majority of the cases could have been prevented.  You must make it a priority to always protect yourself. 


Why should farmers and agricultural workers be concerned about hearing loss?

  • Hearing loss from exposure to noise is common among farmers and agricultural workers.
  • Hearing loss from noise is permanent and irreversible.
  • Hearing loss causes loss of life quality for farmers and farm families.
  • For most farmers, hearing loss occurs gradually over many years and may only be noticed once it is a serious problem.
  • Hearing loss from noise can be prevented.

What are the sources of hazardous noise in agriculture?

Hazardous levels of noise are produced by many kinds of agricultural equipment, including:

  • grain dryers      • tractors         • combines    • livestock      • chainsaws  • firearms

What is too loud?

Any noise that leaves you with ringing in the ears or a temporary reduction in your hearing is TOO LOUD! If you are in a noisy location and you have to raise your voice above a normal speaking voice just to be heard, the noise is TOO LOUD!


How is noise measured?

The loudness of sound levels is measured in units of “decibels”, abbreviated as dB or dBA.

Sound levels are measured with sound level meters. While these units are expensive, there are now many smartphones apps that can provide an estimate of sound levels.

Sound levels under 85 dBA are generally thought of as “safe,” although there is some risk of hearing loss for prolonged exposures to 80 dBA.

How can farmers protect their hearing?

Exposure to noise can be controlled in many ways. The following are common methods for agricultural workers:

  1. Reduce sound levels. When selecting new equipment, ask about sound levels and pick the quietest option.
  2. Perform routine equipment maintenance. For example, fixing mufflers on engines, lubricating bearings, and replacing worn parts will reduce noise levels and improve farming operations.
  3. Isolate yourself from noise. Working in motorized equipment equipped with cabs or enclosures will reduce noise exposure. Open tractors, loaders, and ATVs exposes operators to more noise than similar equipment with enclosed cabs.
  4. Use personal protective equipment. Since purchasing newer, quieter equipment is not always an option, use hearing protection when working in noisy settings. The earmuff style offers the best protection and is easy to use. Expandable ear plugs are the next best option but these require proper insertion to be effective: roll them up, insert into the ear, hold in place while they expand to fill the ear canal.

Mark “HIGH NOISE ZONE” anywhere there is risk of excessive noise exposure. Have a set of earmuffs or earplugs in or near every high noise setting on the farm. The easier hearing protection is to use, the more likely it will be used!

All hearing protection equipment has a “Noise Reduction Rating”, or “NRR”, usually between 15 and 30 decibels. Choose the hearing protection with the highest NRR value.

  1. Limit daily exposure duration. Reducing the amount of time you are exposed to noise can limit its harmful effects.

The table below shows how the “safe” exposure duration to noise decreases with increasing noise exposures. These times indicate the maximum amount of time someone can be safely exposed to noise when NOT wearing hearing protection.


Maximum time/day

Sound level (dB)

Examples of noise source at sound levels

2.5 hr


ATV, push lawn mower

95 min


Enclosed cab tractor or combine, grain auger

47 min


Air compressor

30 min


Shop vacuum

15 min


Pigs squealing, table saw, irrigation pump

9 min


Riding lawnmower, pressure washer

4 min


Tractor, combine (no cab), grain dryer

<1 min



Adapted from: (April 2, 2013)


How to wear soft foam earplugs

To get the best protection from your soft foam earplugs, remember to roll, pull, and hold when putting them in. Use clean hands to keep from getting dirt and germs into your ears!

  1. Roll

Roll the earplug up into a small thin “snake” with your fingers. You can use one or both hands.

  1. Pull

Pull the top of your ear up and back with your opposite hand to straighten out your ear canal. The rolled-up earplug should slide right in.

  1. Hold

Hold the earplug in with your finger. Count to 20 or 30 out loud while waiting for the plug to expand and fill the ear canal. Your voice will sound muffled when the plug has made a good seal.

Check the fit when you’re all done. Most of the foam body of the earplug should be within the ear canal. Try cupping your hands tightly over your ears. If sounds are much more muffled with your hands in place, the earplug may not be sealing properly. Take the earplug out and try again.



Hearing Loss Among Farmers and Agricultural Workers. National Ag Safety Database,