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Poor hearing is a safety risk to yourself and others

Here's some sound advice: What you can't hear may actually hurt you -- or injure someone you love.

Hearing loss affects more than 36 million Americans. Farmers are at a higher risk for hearing loss than most other American workers.

But hearing loss also puts farmers at a higher risk for suffering a work-related injury, according to a 2007 University of Iowa study.

"Farmers who reported that they had difficulty hearing normal conversation were shown to be 80% more likely to suffer an injury related to a fall on the farm," says Nancy Sprince, the study director.

Hearing aid wearers were 5.4 times more likely to suffer animal-related injuries and 4.4 times more likely to be injured by machines.

Other injury-related factors included a 50-hour (or longer) work week, raising livestock, and taking regular medicine.

Modern tractors and combines have sound-engineered cabs. But grain dryers, chain saws, livestock, and other tools create noisy work sites. Noise aggravates fatigue and stress, two key factors that cause injuries and fatalities.
Increased fatigue has been shown to slow reactions to sudden hazards and changes in the work environment. Research indicates that hearing protection reduces worker stress.

"In many cases, it's difficult to engineer out noise on the farm, so farmers have to rely on personal protective equipment," Sprince says. "Too often, they're unaware of tasks that require hearing protection."

Janet Ehlers, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), offers this advice:

  • Identify noisy tasks on your farm and shop.
  • Wear hearing protection.
  • Make hearing protection convenient (earplugs in your pockets, muffs on the steering wheel).
  • Reduce equipment noise with good machinery maintenance.
  • Limit exposure to noise by keeping cab doors and windows closed.
  • Have your hearing tested regularly.
  • Keep children away from noisy areas and equipment.

More than half of all hearing-impaired people are under 65 years old. But another safety issue involves older adults who provide child care.

"There's a direct correlation between a caregiver's ability to hear and the safety of the babysitting environment," says Sergei Kochkin, executive director of the Better Hearing Institute (BHI).

"Older kids sometimes take advantage of adults' hearing loss to get permission to do something adults wouldn't agree to if they heard."

Recent BHI research indicates that one in five new users of hearing aids are concerned for their own safety or the safety of their loved ones.

The first step is to get an evaluation by an audiologist. Visit, then click on Find an Audiologist.

Here's some sound advice: What you can't hear may actually hurt you -- or injure someone you love.

The list below shows intensity (loudness), which ranges from 0 dB (the softest sound people with normal hearing can hear) to 90 dB (indicating a very severe hearing loss).

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