PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
June 12, 2018

If it seems like loud machines are a big part of life on the farm, well, that’s because they are.

Let’s face it: If it’s used on a farm and it has an engine, it’s probably loud, and if you’re the type of hobby farmer who loves tools and machines, you probably own it. It’s not just full-sized tractors that generate the roar of productivity—even small lawn mowers can produce surprising levels of noise. Throw in string trimmers, leaf blowers, ATVs, chainsaws, snow blowers and, well, you get the picture.

That’s why it’s important for every hobby farmer to own a quality pair of noise-cancelling earplugs or earmuffs. If you value your hearing (and who doesn’t?), you want to avoid working long hours while taking in the never-ending growl of powerful engines. The volume of a chainsaw in action can be greater than 100 decibels, enough to cause hearing damage in a short amount of time. Tractors can generate noise in the 90-to-100-decibel range, and some power tools can be even louder.

When I work with loud machines, I wear a pair of noise-cancelling earmuffs. They’re large enough to fit right over my ears, making them comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and they’re remarkably good at blocking noise and reducing the apparent volume of my machines.

When shopping for a pair of earmuffs or earplugs, don’t assume that all are adequate for your needs. Check the Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, of the earmuffs. This number, measured in decibels, gives you an idea of how effectively the earplugs or earmuffs reduce the apparent volume of loud noises. Greater numbers are better, though, unfortunately, the bare numbers are based on best-case scenarios and usually don’t reveal exactly how much protection you’ll receive. In other words, a pair of earmuffs with an NRR of 32 doesn’t usually reduce noise by 32 decibels.

Instead, users are advised to follow a simple math formula to calculate how much noise reduction earmuffs can offer: Take the NRR rating, subtract seven, and divide the result by two, which gives you the approximate amount by which the earmuffs will reduce sound.

If you use very loud machines for long periods of time, you can add an additional layer of hearing protection by using earplugs and earmuffs simultaneously, though don’t expect the level of noise reduction to double—the gain in protection will be relatively small (but worthwhile).

Also keep in mind that while earplugs and earmuffs can go far toward protecting your hearing, common sense is just as important. Rather than use loud machines for hours on end, break up the periods of noise with breaks, and try to reduce noise levels in other ways if possible—for example, using power tools outside can generate less noise than using them in an enclosed garage, and a tractor with a cab is quieter for the driver than a tractor without a cab.

But one thing is certain—if you don’t already own a pair of earplugs or earmuffs, you should probably start shopping for them.

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