By Dee Jepsen and Peggy Kirk Hall
Harvest season can be rather noisy — both for the farm operator and the rural neighborhood. This season is full of extra activity around grain bins that may create more noise than expected. Technically speaking, sounds do not need to be at damaging levels to be considered noise. Noise can simply be defined as “unwanted sound.” There are two types of noise at the bins — occupational and environmental.
Workers need to be protected from damaging sounds at 90 decibels for an 8-hour work shift. However, it’s best to start wearing hearing protection at 85 decibels as a preventative measure. Common machinery that contributes to hearing loss includes tractors, grain dryers, augers, air compressors, and shop tools. Daily exposure to noise is cumulative, meaning it adds to itself over a lifetime. Hearing damage can be permanent and irreversible.
How does one know if the sounds around the bins are dangerous? There are several ways to determine sound levels, which are measured in decibels. To take a sound reading, use a sound pressure meter. This handheld unit takes electronic measurements on the spot. A local grain co-op may have to borrow. Or if the farm is under the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Program, there are field specialists who can provide a noise reading upon request.
Another method for taking sound measurements is to use a Sound APP on a smart phone device. These APPS have similar capacity and are typically just as good as official equipment for an instantaneous result. Search the APP store for “sound level meter” to find a variety of free options.
Noise ordinances are not always based on “dangerous” sound levels, these cases are more likely considered as nuisance sounds.
A provision in Ohio’s statutory nuisance law (ORC 3767.13(D)) protects agricultural activities using “generally accepted agricultural practices” from nuisance and noise complaints, as long as the activity isn’t causing a “substantial” adverse effect. If grain bin fans and dryers are operating in accordance with general agricultural standards, the farm would have this statutory defense against a claim by the neighbor or an attempt to enforce a noise ordinance against him (if there is a noise ordinance — many rural zoning codes don’t have a noise provision for agricultural areas).
There is also the “agricultural district program” or Right to Farm law (ORC 929.04) that also protects farmers from civil nuisance complaints. If the land is enrolled in that program through the county auditor, farmers have a defense to a nuisance complaint if the farm operation was there before the complaining party and if he’s acting according to those “generally accepted agricultural practices.”
Agricultural noise is common problem with country lifestyles. Typically, in outdoor locations it is more difficult to contain the sound like what can be done in other manufacturing operations.
Having workers wear hearing protection around on-farm grain facilities will help protect them from long-term damage from these sounds.
Dee Jepsen, Professor of Agricultural Safety, can be reached at 614-292-6008 or Jepsen.firstname.lastname@example.org. Peggy Kirk Hall, Attorney and Director, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program, can be reached at email@example.com. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.