Study: Lack of Hearing Protection Increases Injury Risk for Farmers

Farmers who don't use hearing protection have an increased risk of getting hurt on the job, according to a new University of Iowa study.

The study, led by Dr. Nancy Sprince, an occupational and environmental health professor with the University of Iowa College of Public Health, showed that farmers who had difficulty hearing normal conversation were 80 percent more likely to suffer an injury related to a fall on the farm.

In addition, farmers who wore hearing aids were 2.4 percent times as likely to be injured on the job and 5.4 times more likely to suffer an animal-related injury - such as falling off a horse - and 4.4 times more likely to suffer a machinery-related injury.

Other risk factors found to be associated with greater injury include working 50 or more hours a week on a farm, having large livestock on the farm and regularly taking medication.

Noisy Work Environments

According to Sprince, the loud conditions on farms created by tractors, combines, grain dryers, chainsaws and even livestock can create a hazardous work environment that can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Compounding the problem is that hearing protection isn't always worn, Sprince said.

"In many cases it is difficult to engineer out noise on the farm, so farmers have to rely on personal protective equipment," Sprince said. "And too often, they are unaware of the tasks that require hearing protection."

Hearing aids, she said, help restore some of the farmers' auditory abilities, but the best situation is for them to retain as much of their natural hearing ability as possible.

Previous studies have established farms are dangerous work environments. A 2005 study found farmers are eight times more likely to suffer a fatal occupational injury than the average American worker and twice as likely to suffer a non-fatal occupational injury.

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