Horsepower vs. Hearing

Most rural residents over age forty experience substantial hearing impairment, studies have found. On a farm, tractors and other heavy equipment each can exceed one hundred decibels or higher — enough to cause permanent hearing damage after fifteen minutes of exposure. Yet, the federal occupational health and safety regulations that protect employees in noisy urban work settings don’t cover farmers.

To raise awareness, Melanie Buhr-Lawler and students from the UW’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders attend the Tomah Tractor Pull, an annual Wisconsin event that draws sixty thousand spectators. They talk about options to protect hearing and offer free earplugs to block out the deafening roar of turbocharged, three-thousand-horsepower machines.

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