What Does OSHA Say About Earbuds?

Question:
What does OSHA say about the use of ear buds in a manufacturing environment?

Response:
We have several questions and responses in our archives about using ear buds and/or ear protection, in work environments. Some of them have many links to articles. You may find it useful to go to categories and check out Music and Noise in the Workplace.

If you are asking about reducing harm from noise in the work environment, your best resource is the OSHA website. They don’t have rules about whether or not ear protection is worn, but they have advice about protecting hearing.

https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/

If you are asking about wearing earbuds to allow workers to listen to music at work, OSHA doesn’t have any regulations prohibiting or requiring regular earbuds. As a matter of safety, it’s important for all workers to be able to hear the sounds around them to a sufficient degree that they can hear warnings, equipment starting and stopping, alarms, and necessary communications from coworkers and bosses.

Other than that, it is up to management to decide if employees can listen to radio, music or books on tape, through the use of earbuds and audio devices.

We hear from many managers who say that employees who have earbuds and other headsets, tend to never hear a request or question the first time and coworkers often have to walk right up to them and get their attention, before they realize someone is trying to talk to them. We hear from employees who say they feel isolated when those around them are listening to something else and not interacting with them at all. And, of course, we hear from employees who want to be able to listen to music or other audio, to relieve the monotony of their work.

One thing is for sure, once management allows headsets of any kind to be worn, it’s almost impossible to reverse the decision without causing a lot of upset.

So, whether your question is about safety devices or entertainment devices, managers and employees need to communicate about it well in advance and make sure the right decisions are being made. (Or, if management doesn’t want to have employees wearing earbuds, they are probably better off just saying no and moving on, without the invariable arguments.)

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this situation was handled in your workplace, in case we can use the information to assist others.

Best wishes to you!

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors