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BY KIYOSHI MARTINEZ SVS REPORTER
A new study reveals that not only are farmers already at a higher risk for hearing loss, but those with hearing aids have more work-related injuries.
University of Iowa research found that farmers with difficulty hearing regular conversations were 80 percent more likely to be injured on the job.
Working in a noise-intensive environment surrounded by heavy machinery and animals increases the probability a farmer will develop some degree of hearing loss over time.
"The noise levels on farms are quite elevated," said Dr. Nancy Sprince, who led the study. "Livestock themselves can generate very high decibels."
Just how high? About 85 decibels, the level at which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide ear protection and hearing testing for workers.
William Hudson, a doctor of audiology at KSB Hospital, said farmers and others who work with loud noises should take steps to protect the hearing they have and periodically get tested.
"It's going to make their quality of life better, but also maybe help prevent potential injuries," Hudson said.
Hearing loss can come from both working in noisy areas day after day, but also from a single, extremely loud noise, Hudson said. Gradual hearing loss from noise isn't medically correctable, but hearing aids can help.
"Ultimately you want people to think about hearing as an important sense and do something when it starts going bad," Hudson said.
Along with increased odds of developing hearing problems, farmers needing hearing assistance are also more likely to be injured on the job.
The study found those with hearing aids have machine injuries 4.4 times more often and injuries from animals 5.4 times more often.
Sprince said the study also found that many farmers don't use hearing protection while they work - especially those who are self-employed - unlike many other industries that have mandated hearing safety programs.
Sprince cited another study that found only 47 percent of male farmers and 18 percent of female farmers used hearing protection while working.
But using hearing protection alone won't completely protect a worker's hearing.
"They are stopgap measures," Sprince said. "It's best to prevent it at its source."
The best methods involve stopping the noise levels at the machinery level, which means newer equipment that dampens the sound. But that's not always practical and some factors, like noise from animals, cannot be controlled.