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Wearing Earbuds At Work May Put You At Risk

Pennsylvania workers' compensation

Many of us love listening to music. While you’re at work, listening to music can seem like a good way to help make the time go by. You may not want to bother your co-workers, so you put in some earbuds and turn up the music on your phone. They’re convenient, they sound great, and they let you get lost in the music as do your job.

But is it a good idea? In many types of jobs, probably not.

Earbuds can affect awareness of your surroundings

Using earbuds or headphones to listen to music while working can be a safety risk. This is especially true in industries where there are a lot of hazards – such as manufacturing and construction.

The great thing about earbuds and headphones is that they allow you to listen to the music or podcasts you like without bothering anybody else. The bad thing about earbuds and headphones is that you can’t hear:

  • Unusual noises in machinery that could indicate a problem
  • A co-worker shouting to warn you about a falling object or other hazard
  • A truck backing up
  • A forklift coming up behind you
  • Heavy equipment approaching
  • Fire and safety alarms and other alerts
  • Other problems that can occur in the workplace

As a result, you could be seriously hurt.

OSHA has regulations and standards concerning the use of hearing protection in jobs where workers are exposed to high levels of noise. But none concern the use of earbuds or headphones to listen to music at work. They have offered some guidance, however.

In a 2019 letter, an OSHA official wrote that “a portable music player is not a substitute for hearing protection.” The letter pointed out some of the hazards that workers faced on construction sites, noting that “listening to music may produce a safety hazard by masking environmental sounds.” It concluded that the use of headphones at the workplace was ultimately up to the employer, who had a responsibility to ensure they could be used safely.

Employers have a responsibility to keep workers safe

In an article published earlier this year, the occupational safety and health magazine EHS Today proposed five measures for manufacturing employers to adopt concerning the use of earbuds or headphones on the job:

  • All employees in any operational area of a manufacturing facility, including even employees who work in warehousing or supply areas, should be prohibited from using earbuds or similar items.
  • Those individuals who work strictly in an office setting, well away from any operational sectors of the facility may use earbuds—but even in that setting, they should be prohibited from using the devices while walking or otherwise leaving their desk.
  • Employees must be prohibited from using these devices in place of required hearing protection.
  • Employees must be prohibited from wearing these devices under, or over, hearing protection.
  • Further, even without earbuds, workers must not be on their smartphones while performing work or near any operating equipment. When using phones, they must be well clear of any transit paths for vehicles, forklifts, bicycles or even walkways for pedestrians in the plant.

Check with your employer about the policies concerning employee safety and the use of earbuds and headphones. If you or a loved one was injured in a fall at work in Pennsylvania, contact Vellner Law, PC, in Bethlehem, PA and schedule your free consultation. We proudly represent injured workers and handle workplace injury accidents in the Lehigh Valley and throughout Pennsylvania.

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