Federal (OSHA) Rules About Radios At Work?

A question about radios being used in the workplace.

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Question:

Are there OSHA rules about using radios at work?

Response from Ask the Workplace Doctors: 

Check our archives under Music and Noise at Work, to see some of the many questions and responses in the past, about this issue.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is part of the Department of Labor and regulates many aspects of workplace safety. https://www.osha.gov/ Each state also has a department of labor and related occupational safety groups. They would be your best source for information about your specific situation.

However, as a general guideline: Unless the radios are operating at a very, very high volume, continuously throughout the shift and employees are required to use them, they would probably not come under OSHA regulations.

The biggest concern most employers have about the use of radios is that it may distract employees from their work, it may muffle sounds that they need to hear (phones, alarms, etc.) and it tends to shut people off from others, because coworkers are hesitant to interrupt people who seem to be indicating that they don’t want to talk.

One side-effect of open-office concepts (no walls, no offices, few private areas) is that employees may use radios and music-players, or just earbuds and headphones, to block or mask the noise of movement and conversation around them. That defeats the collaboration that open offices are supposed to achieve, but is the only way some employees can tolerate the arrangement!

Ultimately, it is a decision by an employer about the use of radios–although employee groups and unions sometimes become involved.  If radios or music-players are allowed, there should be some rules established about them, to ensure that the negative issues mentioned above (phones not being heard, shutting people out, etc.) do not become a permanent problem. One thing is for sure: Once radios are approved it is almost impossible to stop their use later.

I hope this was helpful.

Workplace Doctors
Tina Rowe