This week we have discussed the appalling safety record in the industry and also some of the ways we can start to improve things but are we really hearing the messages that are being shared?
Today’s theme is the ‘health’ in Health & Safety and one area that we often overlook until it’s too late is hearing loss. Like most incidents in farming, hearing loss caused by work is preventable but once hearing has gone it won’t come back. Exposure to high noise levels on farms can cause permanent hearing damage, often without the sufferer being aware of it until it is too late. It may lead to tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or deafness.
We all know that daily life on the farm is characterised by high noise levels from animals, tractors, ventilation systems and other machinery. As a consequence, farmers are particularly vulnerable to loss of hearing. Noise injury occurs when thousands of tiny hair cells in the inner ear (cochlear), are damaged through excessive noise. These hair cells are needed to receive sound vibrations before
transmitting them to the brain. Once destroyed, these hair cells are not replaced. The process of hearing loss through noise injury is painless, progressive and permanent – but it is also preventable.
Earlier in the week, international rugby legend and farm safety ambassador Rory Best outlined why we should rethink risk around hearing and why he is supporting the ‘Don’t Suffer in Silence’ campaign with Specsavers in Ireland focusing on the importance of hearing health. Rory’s father John experienced hearing loss as a result of working on the farm and Rory is encouraging everyone to be extra mindful of family and friends who might be struggling with their hearing before it’s too late.
‘A son of a farmer and now a farmer myself, I know the risks on the farm that can have a serious impact on a person’s hearing… from machinery to the sounds of the farm animals, there are so many potential hazards for people to be mindful of. They may seem like every day sounds from the farm but continuous exposure to these sounds, especially without hearing protection, can cause long term and irreversible damage.’
Under the Health & Safety Act 1974, employers must provide their workers with information, instruction and training and, in certain circumstances, carry out health surveillance. Employees and the self-employed also have legal duties to protect themselves against noise.
SIGNS OF NOISE INJURY AND HEARING LOSS
Do you have difficulty hearing…
- On the phone?
- Watching TV?
- In conversations?
- When there is noise in the background?
Do you have…
- Ringing/Noise in your ears or head (Tinnitus)?
- People having to repeat things constantly?
FARM NOISE EXPOSURE
The degree of noise injury will depend on the length of time exposed to noise – as well as how ‘loud’ the noise is, as measured in decibels (dB). For each 3 dB increase, the noise intensity is doubled.
- exposure to many different sources of noise (e.g. tractors, chainsaws, grain dryers and guns) has a cumulative effect and can cause damage, even though you may only be exposed to a single source for short periods of time;
- intensively housed animals can create noise levels above the action levels. Pigs at feeding time can create levels of 100 dB or more.
- hearing protection should be the last resort to control noise exposure;
- whether you use ear muffs, plugs or inserts, you will only get the assumed protection if they are in good condition, the correct size and worn properly;
- to be effective, hearing protection needs to be worn all the time that people are in noisy places. If it is left off for even short periods, the amount of protection will be severely limited and it will not protect hearing;
- maintenance of machines and changes in work methods can affect noise levels.
For more information
Agricultural Machinery – Noise hazards (hse.gov.uk)