Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) Among Agricultural Workers in the Southeast

Completed Pilot Project

PI: Richard Sesek, Auburn

Rates of hearing loss among agricultural workers in the US exceed those of workers in manufacturing and general industry. Despite this, agriculture standards (29 CFR 1928) do not include guidance on noise. In fact, 1928 specifically exempts the application of most 1910 (general industry) standards including noise (1910.95).  Therefore, noise in agricultural operations must be cited via the general duty clause, 5(a)(1), which has seldom been applied to agricultural noise since OSHA’s inception in 1972. Despite well-documented hearing loss among agricultural workers, hearing conservation activities have been limited in both scope and efficacy. The application of feasible engineering controls for noise at its source has also been lacking. Most workplaces, farms included, do not attempt to implement engineering controls, rather they provide hearing protection which, unfortunately, is often not used or used incorrectly.

Accurate noise measurement requires relatively expensive and delicate equipment (sound level meters and noise dosimeters). Many agricultural entities, particularly small farming operations, lack the resources to purchase such devices. Recently, sound level meter (SLM) apps for smart phones have been developed for the evaluation of noise and proposed as an alternative for expensive SLMs. The accuracy of these apps has been questioned and their adoption has not been widespread. However, the addition of relatively inexpensive microphones ($30-$120) has shown promise for increasing the accuracy of SLM apps. 

The goals of this project are to

1. Identify potential inexpensive alternatives to SLMs that can be used for screening and relative comparisons of noise sources,

2. Characterize common noise sources in the southeast using both calibrated SLMs and SLM apps, and aggregate and document simple, cost-effective engineering controls for these noise sources, and create simple training materials that can be distributed to agricultural operations. These materials will include how to use smart phone apps to conservatively identify potential noise hazards.