Many worksites are noisy environments, to the point that this noise can cause long-term damage to workers hearing. It’s estimated that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise each year, so taking preventative measures is very important. OSHA has standards and requirements for hearing conservation programs and devices, but this gets a little complicated with a specific device you probably see every day: headphones.
While there aren’t any specific regulations that prohibit headphone use on a site, this doesn’t mean that they’re completely approved either. Headphones can help to limit exposure to damaging noise levels, but in a standard interpretation letter, OSHA stated that headphones may be allowed at an employer’s discretion, unless they create or augment other hazards besides noise. They mention that struck-by hazards might be increased due to headphones and music masking the worksite sounds that could warn them of impending danger, and this could be a safety hazard.
In addition, some headphone manufacturers advertise their headphones as “OSHA approved” or certified in a similar manner. OSHA clarified in this interpretation letter that, “OSHA doesn’t register, certify, approve, or endorse commercial or private sector entities, products, or services. Therefore, any such claims by a manufacturer are misleading.” So while these headphones may help to reduce sound to certain levels, they aren’t officially be certified to protect you to the standards that OSHA requires.
As stated previously, the issue of headphones on the workplace is a complicated one. On one hand, they may help to boost morale by allowing workers to listen to the music, podcasts, or other media they enjoy. This can mean happier workers, which can help with productivity. However, there might not be a way to truly verify how much these headphones reduce noise levels and protect hearing compared to traditional methods of hearing protection.
On top of that, headphones can run the risk of distracting workers from hearing the things going on around the worksite, whether that’s from other workers trying to communicate with them or from impending danger on the worksite. These are considerations that employers should think of when making the decision on whether to allow headphones.
Hearing loss is an issue that afflicts around 37.5 million people (not just workers!) in the U.S. over the age of 18, according to the CDC. This creates all kinds of issues and struggles both individually and in the workplace, as communication can become more difficult because of something that is out of anyone’s control at that point. This can create a compounding effect of making work difficult and create anxious feelings in workers. Preventing this hearing loss is very important, and if you’d like to learn more about protecting hearing on the worksite, check out our training course on hearing conservation! Good luck, and stay safe!