Suffolk farmers told job could put them at risk of hearing loss

Prolonged exposure to farm machinery and livestock could be putting farmers’ hearing at risk, a Suffolk hearing expert has warned.

Speaking during Rural Health Week (September 18 to 24), Karen Finch, of The Hearing Care Centre in Ipswich, claimed the hearing of agricultural workers was at risk through modern farmyard noises which can exceed limits.

“Whether it’s old tractors, grinders, power tools or the noise in the piggery or the milking parlour, sound levels can be far above the safety limit of 85 decibels (dB), and according to the Farm Safety Association, 70% of farmers have less than normal hearing for their age,” she said. Ipswich Hearing Care Centre is offering free hearing tests to farmers from September 26 to 30.

“Farms are terribly noisy places, yet most farmers don’t use hearing protection,” she said.

Most weren’t aware of the dangers they face, she added.

According to the Health & Safety Executive, the noise limit is 87 dB for daily exposure, and 140dB for peak noise.

Pigs in an enclosed area can create noise levels of 100 dB, while wood chippers are likely to operate at 120dB.

Most Read

“A farmer or his workers would think nothing of spending more than eight hours a day driving a tractor or working with silage machines which could have noise levels which are very close to the limit”, she said, and warned prolonged exposure can cause permanent hearing loss.

The problem was that the hearing loss is gradual, and few people notice until it has advanced so far they are having difficulties communicating because of it, she said. And the longer hearing loss is left without any treatment, the more difficult it is to have a solution to it.

“It’s a sobering thought that even if farmers aren’t worried about their own hearing, they are legally responsible to provide protection for their workers; and if they don’t provide it, could be sued in future years if any hearing loss is proven to have been caused by exposure to the noise of the farm,” she said.