Turn Down the Volume and Turn Up the Safety

Safety on the job and the importance of proper ear protection


Wireless headphones are everywhere, and they have quickly made their way from the gym and leisure activities to the office, and even the job site.  While it goes without saying, the use of headphones to listen to music on construction job sites is a dangerous and a serious distraction; it is so dangerous that even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has weighed in on the issue.  In response to an inquiry regarding interpretation of standards last year, OSHA stated: “Listening to music may produce a safety hazard by masking environmental sounds that need to be heard, especially on active construction sites where attention to moving equipment, heavy machinery, vehicle traffic and safety warning signals may be compromised.”

While noise canceling headphones can provide a superior music listening experience by blocking noise in the surrounding environment, they are not suitable for serving as audio protection on the job site.  Although OSHA has not put a specific regulation in place that prohibits the use of headphones on a construction site, the agency has set permissible noise exposure limits and requires all employers to protect employees who may be subject to sound levels exceeding these limits.

OSHA’s Hearing Protection standard requires that employers provide ear protective equipment to employees to be used wherever necessary for the purpose of reducing noise levels below acceptable limits; the limits set by OSHA can be found in OSHA’s standard for Occupational Noise Exposure in construction, 29 CFR 1926.52, which sets permissible noise exposure limits in Table D-2. The standards for acceptable noise exposure limits range from eight hours per day for 90 decibels to a quarter hour or less per day for 115 decibels.

Additionally, other liabilities and risks are increased by headphone distractions including struck-by hazards which is one of the leading four causes of death in the construction industry.  Even in the absence of a specific regulation regarding use of headphones, employers still could face fines and enforcement actions if OSHA identifies a violation within the General Duties Clause, which requires all employers to maintain safe workplaces.  While employers may still choose to allow headphones on the job site, it is critical for workers to be able to hear equipment, safety warnings and signals, alarms, as well as verbal communication from team members on the job.

Even if you have acquired headphones that claim to be OSHA certified or have adjustable volume limits, OSHA reported that they do not register, certify, approve, or endorse commercial or private sector entities, products or services. In other words, no headphones are good headphones for listening to music on the job.  For this reason, it is worth taking the time to review your policies and update team members as necessary to ensure that proper ear protection and procedures are readily available, understood and utilized by all team members on the job.

To secure the latest safety training for your crews and strengthen your own safety programs, policies and procedures, contact Brauner Safety Services.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website is for general educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or guidance. Moreover, the information provided may not be accurate for circumstances or equipment at an individual facility or specific work site. The author takes no responsibility whatsoever for any person’s/entity’s use of or application of information provided on this website.

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