The continual use of loud machinery and equipment on farms, such as tractors, augers, firearms, chainsaws, radios and tools in the workshop increases the risk of permanent hearing loss for farmers. For example; the typical noise level of a chainsaw cutting is 120 decibels (A), this indicates that without hearing protection, it is safe to be exposed to it for a maximum of 8 seconds before the risk of damage to the ears.
According to a report by the Australian Parliament on the “Extent and cause of hearing loss impairment in Australia” (2008-2010), the agricultural sector reports high levels of hearing loss among farmers. 65 per cent of Australian farmers have a measurable hearing loss, compared to 22-27 per cent of the general population. Hearing loss is also high among young farmers compared to the general population. On average hearing loss occurs 10-15 years earlier than in non-agricultural populations.
Prolonged exposure to loud noise will damage the tiny hair cells within the inner ear. Once damaged, the tiny hair cells cannot be repaired or replaced. Signs that you may have hearing loss include:
- Background noise makes it difficult to hear conversations in crowds or at social events.
- You do not always hear the phone ring.
- Others may complain that the television or radio is too loud but you find it is at a comfortable level for you to hear.
- Constantly asking others to repeat what they have just said.
- Ringing or noises in the ear or head when away from equipment or machinery (tinnitus).
- People complain that you talk too loudly.
- Ask yourself the question—can the task be completed in a way that reduces your exposure to farm noise?
- When purchasing or replacing machinery ask about the availability of a quieter model.
- Ensure machinery or equipment is maintained with regular checks to ensure it runs as quietly as possible.
- If possible, rearrange work areas to alter your proximity to loud machines or equipment.
- Insulate cabins to further reduce noise.
- Limit the time spent working close to loud machinery. Try rotating work tasks.
- Be familiar with the noise levels of equipment, machinery and tasks on the farm by downloading a noise meter app on your phone.
- Wear Class 5 hearing protection such as ear plugs or ear muffs and be familiar with the Sound Level Conversion (SLC) rating of those items.
- Make sure you know the correct way to insert and use earplugs.
- To purchase recommended hearing protection equipment visit our Safety Shop.
Hearing tests check a person’s ability to hear the loudness and pitch of sounds. The results are charted on a graph (audiogram) to help pinpoint the severity and causes of hearing problems. Tests include pure tone audiometry, using an audiometer, and speech discrimination tests. Special tests are available to test hearing in babies and children. A doctor, audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist can provide more information about hearing loss and hearing tests.
Find out more about how we hear and signs you may need a hearing test go to Better Health Channel
- Farming practices can expose farmers to prolonged loud noise which can lead to permanent hearing loss.
- Wearing hearing protection is best practice. Ensure ear plugs or ear muffs are Class 5 with adequate Sound Level Conversation for protection.
- Hearing protection should fit securely and be worn correctly. It should also be comfortable, effective and suitable for the job.
References used for this topic
Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety
Farm noise and hearing loss
WorkCover Queensland (Qld)
Manual tasks and noise
Shooting – aim to keep your hearing [PDF]
Department of Commerce (WA) – provides a checklist to assist in reducing the risks of exposure to noise
Noise in agriculture: identification, assessment and control [PDF]
Safe Work Australia
Managing noise and preventing hearing loss
Research & reviews:
Australian Journal of Rural Health
Farmers’ work-day noise exposure
Disability and Rehabilitation, Early Online: 1-6 y
Higher social distress and lower psycho-social wellbeing: examining the coping capacity and health of people with hearing impairment
Parliament of Australia
The extent and causes of hearing impairment in Australia
Journal of Agromedicine
Changes in the hearing status and noise injury prevention practices of Australian farmers from 1994 to 2008
National Centre for Farmer Health for The Department of Health and Ageing
Shhh hearing in a farming environment