Hearing loss puts farmers at higher risk for suffering an injury at work, according to a new University of Iowa study that will be released today at the National Hearing Conservation Association's 32nd annual conference.
A team led by Dr. Nancy Sprince of the University of Iowa College of Public Health had farmers perform self assessments of their hearing to assess a correlation between hearing loss in farmers and occupational injury. The presentation will be given Feb. 16 at 3:55 p.m. The conference, titled "A Passion to Preserve," will be held Feb. 15-17 at the Hyatt Regency in Savannah, Ga.
The study's participants were pulled from the larger Agricultural Health Study that included 30,000 Iowa farmers. Of those, 7,000 were randomly selected to participate, and after a screening, 431 were chosen for the case group and 473 for the control group. The case group was made up of farmers who said they had been injured on the job in the past year, and the control group said they had not been.
They were asked whether they had difficulty hearing normal conversation even with a hearing aid. The farmers who had difficulty hearing normal conversation were shown to be 80 percent more likely to suffer an injury related to a fall on the farm. Wearing a hearing aid was shown to have the highest correlation to work-related injury. Hearing aid-wearers were 2.4 times as likely to be injured on the job, and they were 5.4 times more likely to suffer an animal-related injury, like 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 taking medication regularly.
This is important because farmers have been shown to be at a higher risk for hearing loss than other American workers. The loud conditions on farms created by tractors, combines, grain dryers, chainsaws, livestock and other things create a hazardous work environment that can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Compounding the problem is that hearing protection is not always worn. Hearing aids 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.
Sprince will advocate the prevention of agricultural injuries by controlling the noise exposure that leads to hearing loss. This includes more widespread and appropriate use of hearing protection.
"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."