Hearing safety for farmers – Product Review
Activity: Mowing grass with Massey Ferguson Tractor
Timeline: 0-5 seconds - No hearing protection at all 5-10 seconds - Using ETY HD Earplugs (approx. 20 dB noise reduction) 10-25 seconds - Using ETY Earplugs/Earphones with flanged eartips on iPhone with a little George Strait.
Our take? These are ideal devices for farm work and tractor pulls.
Mount Sidney, Virginia - OTF Radio recently field-tested two innovative devices designed to protect the hearing of farmers or others who work in potentially noisy environments. Here’s our take:
Almost everyone in a rural community knows a farmer who, engaged in conversation, will lean over, cup a hand to his ear and ask, “Would you mind repeating that?” It is regrettable that many farmers and agricultural workers suffer significant hearing loss. This condition often occurs after many years of being continually subjected to loud noises.
Numerous studies have found a great deal of hearing loss in farming; in fact, more than in most other types of work according to the National Safety Council. This is mostly related to loud noises produced by farm equipment such as tractors, generators, blowers, livestock, chain saws, etc.
One thing I learned in my former career as an acoustic analyst with the U.S. Navy is that hearing loss can be permanent. Once the nerves in the inner ear are damaged by loud noises, they may never heal. Fortunately, hearing loss in agricultural and industrial settings is completely preventable by using appropriate hearing protection on a regular basis.
Etymotic Research, Inc. is an engineering-driven research, development and manufacturing company based in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. They’ve been around more than 30 years helping protect the hearing of workers in multiple industries. The name "Etymotic" (pronounced "et-im-oh-tik.") means "true to the ear." Etymotic's products are used by scientists, professional musicians, motorsports enthusiasts, and others who insist on superior sound quality. My understanding is that these devices are particularly popular in the pits at top-fuel drag racing events, tractor pulls, and other high noise environments.
Products applicable to farmers and agricultural workers include:
1) ETY•Plugs® HD•Safety™ Earplugs
We tested this product while mowing with a standard zero-turn lawn mower and also doing loader work with a farm tractor.
The “high-definition” plugs fit very comfortably in the ear and stayed put. We’ve had issues in the past with ear plugs that fall out or become loose in the ear canal (especially when working cattle or other high-energy chores). If not seated firmly in the ear canal, some earplugs allow peripheral noise to reach the eardrum and cause an uncomfortable level of acoustic energy to reach the eardrum. The three flanges on the ETY•Plugs, however, created a very comfortable and tight fit and we had no problems even after several hours of tractor work.
The construction of the earplugs appears to be “industrial grade.” Each pair comes with a convenient carry-case and neck cord allowing farmers to keep a pair of these earplugs handy. The thing we like most about these earplugs is they don’t block out ALL of the sound – they simply reduce the level of acoustic energy to an acceptable level. The number one reason I hear from farmers for not wearing hearing protection is they feel like they have to hear the
equipment. They need to be able to tell if anything is wrong. These ear plugs do exactly that - allow high-definition acoustic energy to safely reach the eardrum. ETY-Plugs accomplishes this by using a proprietary, tuned resonator and acoustic resistor to replicate the natural response of the ear canal. Sound is reproduced unchanged, as the ear would hear it, only quieter. If there’s a problem with your equipment, you will hear it.
Clinical measurements show that properly inserted ETY•Plugs provide an average of 20 dB sound reduction.
Retail price - $13.95 Available at www.etymotic.com or numerous other online resources.
2) HD•Safety™ Earplugs + Earphones This is our favorite device to protect our hearing in potentially loud farm environments. The HD•Safety™ Earplugs + Earphones are exactly that – a combined earplug and earphone. This allows you to listen to your favorite music or podcast while performing various chores on the farm. We subscribe to numerous agricultural podcasts, so during an otherwise boring afternoon spent making hay or working in some other noisy farm environment, we can get up to speed with recent podcasts. Farm production and knowledge-gathering have become much more efficient since we’ve been using this device.
The HD•Safety™ Earplugs + Earphones are very comfortable and fit in the ear securely. We use them with an iPhone 6 and it works just fine. Reducing the need to play music at loud levels, we can use this device for several hours at a time with no discomfort whatsoever. The package comes with an assortment of foam and flanged eartips. Personally, we prefer the 3-flange tip, but you might like the foam variety. It’s nice to have a choice between small or large 3-flange as well as small or standard foam.
This device also comes with a well-made pouch allowing storage of eartips when not in use.
Retail price - $64.95 Available at www.etymotic.com or numerous other online resources.
Bottom line: We can offer our unequivocal, highest recommendation for either (or both) of these hearing safety products. We encourage farmers and others to protect their hearing - after all . . . . you DO want to hear your grandchildren . . . right?