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Workers urged to protect hearing from farm clatter

September 28, 2013 • Business


Tom Duerst drives his tractor planting winter wheat at his farm near Verona, Wis., Friday Sept. 27, 2013. Duerst, a 55-year-old Wisconsin dairy farmer with partial hearing loss now wears ear protection when working on the farm. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Far from the clatter of cities, the nation’s farmers are assaulted every day by the earsplitting squeals of hundreds of hogs, the roar of tractors and the incessant whine of grain dryers during the fall harvest.

An estimated one-third of the nation’s three million farmers have some level of hearing loss caused by their inner ears’ daily bombardment from sounds that can rival a rock concert’s sonic impact. Even farmers still in their 20s can end up with the muffled hearing of someone in middle age if they fail to protect their hearing.

“You just can’t get away from the machinery. We’re driving those tractors and they’re so goddamn loud,” said Tom Duerst, a 55-year-old Wisconsin dairy farmer with partial hearing loss he attributes to farm noises he was exposed to in his youth.

Many farmers are on their own when recognizing their elevated risk of hearing loss, because only the largest U.S. farms operate under federal workplace safety regulations. Though the risks have been known for decades, only more recently have nonprofits, university researchers and federal agencies focused on trying to educate farmers and their children how to avoid hearing loss by wearing sound-cutting earmuffs or ear plugs.

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