Preventing Hearing Loss

Dee Jepsen—State Agricultural Safety and Health Leader

How much haven’t you heard today?  Noise-induced hearing loss is a growing concern for Ohio farmers and rural land owners as they go about their normal chores, and especially this time of year. Common pieces of machinery that can cause hearing loss include tractors, grain dryers, chainsaws and firearms. Other small equipment like air compressors, grain augers, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and shop tools can also contribute to the problem. Daily noise exposure is cumulative and hearing loss from these items is permanent and irreversible.

To learn more about noises on the farm, watch a new video produced by the OSU Ag Safety and Health program in partnership with Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. This video explains the common ways hearing loss can occur in agricultural environments and the steps to prevent the damage. The link to the online video is:

The two primary strategies to reduce or prevent exposure involve taking action against the equipment being used, as well as the person’s exposure to the noise. Here are several steps to control noise exposure.

For the equipment, it means controlling the noise at the source:

1.     Select machinery and equipment with lower sound levels. Often times, newer equipment has housing and insulation that reduce noise output.

2.      Perform routine maintenance. Replace worn, loose or unbalanced machine parts to cut down on the vibration and noise that is emitted. Well-lubricated machine parts will also reduce vibration and friction. Ensure mufflers are installed and in good condition on self-propelled machines.

3.     Isolate the noise source from the worker. Tractor and other equipment cabs are good options for keeping the worker away from engine and machine operation noise on self-propelled machines. Insulating walls in the farm shop or garage will also prevent the noise from travelling through to other work or living spaces. 

4.     Limit movement and vibration of stationary power tools. Tool stands can add vibration and more noise to the worksite, especially if they are not secured. Check that all connections are tight and snuggly bolted down. Add rubber pads to the base of table-mounted equipment to keep the tool from being directly mounted to a metal stand.

For the equipment operator:

1.     Wear hearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in workplaces that exceed 85 decibels (dB).

2.     Choose PPE with a 20 NRR rating or higher. The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is included on the package of each product. This number tells the user the decibels that are reduced by wearing the hearing protection. The higher the rating, the better the product. As an example, if the workplace measures 100 decibels (dB), wearing hearing protection with an NRR rating of 22, makes the total exposure 78dB.

3.     Wear hearing protection correctly. The NRR will do no good if the product is not worn correctly. Ear plugs need to be inserted into the ear canal, while ear muffs cover the entire outer ear. Either type is acceptable if worn correctly.

4.     Limit daily exposure to high noise areas.  When the worker is continuously exposed to an 85dB or higher work area, PPE is needed for the entire day. Chores measuring 90dB and higher will require protection while doing that task, but these activities may not take an entire work day. 

5.     Post signs “High Noise Area” in workplaces that require PPE. A sound pressure level meter can accurately measure the work environment so protection is used when it is needed.

Waiting too long to put a noise protection practice in place is not wise. Hearing loss is permanent! Unlike wearing corrective eyeglasses, hearing aids cannot restore a person’s hearing; these devices can only amplify the sounds that can still be detected by the auditory nerves.

For more information about the OSU Ag Safety Program visit or contact Dee Jepsen, OSU Agricultural Safety & Health, at or 614-292-6008.