HSE: ‘Pig farmers need earmuffs’

The ‘dangerous’ levels of noise created by hungry swine has prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recommend that farmers either wear ear protection or stay well away from pigs while they are eating. The warning comes as part of a new leaflet entitled ‘Farmwise – An Essential Guide to Health and Safety in Farming’ issued by the authority.

According to the leaflet, ‘large numbers of pigs in a building can create noise levels of 100 decibels or above, especially at feeding time.’ This, it says is 20 decibels above the legal limit at work, and can cause more damage than a power drill or chainsaw, especially if workers are exposed to other sources of noise, during the day.

‘Use mechanical or automated feeding systems to reduce the need to enter the building when it is noisiest, e.g. at feeding time. Make sure any work requiring entry is done during quieter periods,’ the advice recommends.  

Eighty decibels is the equivalent to the noise inside a tractor cab, and employers are legally obliged to ensure that their workers are protected from any noise levels exceeding this. – According to the HSE, one in five farm workers are exposed to ‘deafening’ levels of noise.

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HSE inspector Tony Mitchell said that ‘if you can imagine a shed with three to 400 hungry sows waiting for you to come and feed them and they are all squealing at the same time, the noise they make can be quite dramatic.’

He suggested installing a mechanised feeding device, in order to avoid such high levels of exposure. ‘It’s not an issue if you have an automated feeding system you can switch on from the outside. Once the pigs are feeding they are quiet…If you are feeding pigs with a barrow of feed with a scoop for each pig you could be exposed to that noise for quite some time.’

According to the leaflet, pigs are the only animals that are perceived to be a potential issue in this way. ‘Farmers certainly do suffer from noise-induced hearing loss and it is exposure to these levels of noise,’ it concludes.  

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