Text Equivalent of “They’re Your Ears: Protect Them (Hearing Loss Caused by Farm Noise is Preventable) PDF

Photo of a tractor in a field, and a photo of a man holding a little boy’s hand outside a silo.

Logo: Department of Health & Human Services, U.S.A; Logo: CDC Workplace Safety and Health; Logo: NIOSH

Did You Know?

It’s not just your parent or your grandparent whose hearing may be slipping. A 25-year-old farmer can have the ears of a 50-year-old and not even know it!

  • Nothing can restore lost hearing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone!
  • BUT hearing loss caused by noise is preventable— and you can choose to prevent it.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss can result from working around farm noise – even hand drills – without hearing protection.
  • If you’re exposed to loud noise on the farm, you may already be losing your hearing.
  • Hearing protection can increase your ability to hear your equipment or others’ voices because it cuts down on the background noise. Some earmuffs have amplification circuits that may help even hearing-impaired workers communicate better in noisy backgrounds.
  • You can buy protective earmuffs with built-in radios that allow you to listen safely to your favorite sports or music while working. They make nice gifts.
  • People have found that protecting themselves from noise reduces their stress, anxiety and fatigue at the end of the day.
  • The best way to avoid hearing loss is to reduce your exposure by using quieter equipment or staying away from noise.

Sound Advice: Protect Your Ears from Damaging Noise

Exposure to noise above 85 decibels (dB) can cause permanent hearing loss.

It can even result from a single nearby shotgun blast, dynamite blast, or other very loud noise.

An illustrated chart shows zero to 150 decibels, with a line extending up the chart at 85 decibels. Noises that are too loud include (listed decibel levels are approximate):

  • Gunshot: 150 decibels
  • Firecrackers: 135 decibels
  • Grain dryer: 115 decibels
  • Chain saw: 110 decibels
  • Rock band: 105 decibels
  • Circular saw: 105 decibels
  • Squealing pig: 100 decibels
  • Tractor: 100 decibels
  • Hand drill: 100 decibels
  • Combine: 100 decibels
  • Table saw: 100 decibels

The following noises are below 85 decibels (listed decibel levels are approximate):

  • Enclosed tractor: 75 decibels
  • Normal conversation: 60 decibels

A “decibel” is the unit used to measure the loudness of sound. Decibel levels for each item shown in the graph may vary.

If you need to raise your voice to be heard an arm’s length away, the noise is probably loud enough to damage your hearing.

How Long is Too Long?

The red bar below shows how long it takes for a particular sound level to become dangerous to the human ear. For example, a chain saw has a sound intensity of about 109 dB. Without proper hearing protection, running a chain saw for only 2 minutes can cause hearing loss!

The chart shows decibels on the left and amount of time on the right. The text says, “It only takes…”

  • 112 dB: less than one minute
  • 109 dB: less than two minutes [sketch of a chain saw]
  • 106 dB: less than four minutes
  • 103 dB: 7.5 minutes [sketch of a circular saw]
  • 100 dB: 15 minutes
  • 97 dB: 30 minutes [sketch of a hand drill]
  • 94 dB: 1 hour
  • 91 dB: 2 hours [sketch of a tractor]
  • 88 dB: 4 hours
  • 85 dB: 8 hours

If you know someone with hearing loss, you know that conversation can be frustrating for both ofyou.

A good hearing aid can help, because it amplifies the sound. However, it does not make sound clearer the way glasses make your vision sharp.

Hearing aids do not correct hearing the way glasses correct vision.

What’s That Ringing?

Have you ever driven an open cab tractor for several hours or gone to a loud concert, then heard a ringing in your ears for the next hour or two? How would you feel if that ringing never went away?

That’s what happens to many people exposed to loud noise.

That ringing in the ears is called tinnitus, and while many people hear ringing, some hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping or clicking sounds. Tinnitus may show up before you even notice much hearing loss.

Photo of a man pushing a girl on a tire swing, with the text: “My little girl doesn’t understand why I can’t hear what she is whispering in my ear. She says, ‘Mommy hears me when I whisper’.”

Photo of a young man on his cell phone, with a dog by his side, with the text: “I thought if I lost my hearing, it would be quiet. But that constant ringing keeps me awake at night and I can’t hear my friends very well on my cell phone.”

How Can I Protect My Hearing?

You don’t have to have the hearing of a 50-year-old by the time you’re 25. It’s up to you to protect your hearing! Identify noisy tasks around your farm and shop that may be harmful to your hearing.

  • Identify noisy tasks around your farm and shop that may be harmful to your hearing.
  • Wear hearing protection at all times whenever you are exposed to loud noise. [Photo of pigs.]
  • Make hearing protection convenient. Stash earplugs in your pockets every morning when you grab your cell phone and keys. Hang canal caps or muffs on your tractor steering wheel, combine and lawn mower.
  • Reduce equipment noise by replacing worn, loose or unbalanced machine parts. Keep equipment well lubricated and maintained. If you have been meaning to replace that loud tractor muffler, do it now.
  • Limit your exposure to loud noise. Stay away from noisy equipment if you don’t need to be near it. Keep cab doors and windows closed.
  • Have your hearing tested by a health care provider if you or someone else suspects a problem. Your family or friends may be the first to notice that your hearing is slipping.
  • Keep children away from noisy areas and equipment. [Photo of tractor.]

The best protectors are the ones you will wear all the time you around loud noise.

  • Formable Earplugs: They look like squishy foam. One picture shows a pair without a cord connecting them. The other picture shows a pair connected with a thin cord that you can drape over your neck to keep from losing them.
  • Pre-molded Earplugs: One pair looks like ear-sized open umbrellas. The other pair looks like a stem with three open umbrellas becoming gradually smaller.
  • Canal Caps: The picture shows pre-molded earplugs attached to a thin rigid headband.
  • Earmuffs: The headband goes over your head and has a portion on each side to cover each ear on the outside.

There are hundreds of different styles of hearing protectors to choose from today. Everyone can find one that is convenient, easy to use, comfortable and fits his or her budget. “Hunter’s” or “shooter’s” muffs may work well for you. Hearing protectors are available on the internet and in local home improvement and
farm stores.

Only trust your ears to products designed as hearing protectors. Cotton balls and other makeshift protectors can let noise pass right through.

“Getting used to wearing my earplugs was like getting used to my favorite boots- even after getting a good fit, it still took a little time.”

Hearing Protection Resources


Writer/Editor: Barbara Mulhern, Agricultural Journalist Document Advisory Group: Thomas Bean, The Ohio State University and NIOSH Great Lakes Center for Agricultural Safety and Health; Deborah Reed, University of Kentucky; Sam Steel, Pennsylvania State University

For additional copies, questions, or comments related to this brochure, e-mail farm.noise@cdc.gov

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DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2007–175

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health