No Longer Radios Where We Work

A question submitted to Ask the Workplace Doctors about radios being prohibited:
I work for a company the makes hydraulic cylinders. The business has been around since the 70’s and radios have always been allowed. The shop has been part of the USW since the 80’s and now they have implemented a hearing conservation program and have posted that all radios have to be removed and are prohibited from further use. There has been no bargaining with the union on this matter. What can we do?
Signed Radios Off

Dear Turned Off:
Your unhappiness about radios being prohibited is understandable since you have had them in your workplace for a long time. The recent decision to prohibit them without even union consultation seems to you and to me as unnecessarily aggravating. You ask: What can we do?

In seeking to turn the radios on once again, remember that there are two over-arching concerns that are even more important: one, being able to communicate effectively despite the noise from production and other noise from radios and two, protection of individual’s hearing. Some types of work require protective gear for the ears.

You have several courses of action:
1. Learn from your Human Resources and/or Legal Department on what regulations is this ruling is based.
2. Request your union representative to investigate the basis of this decision and what their state and/or national offices have to say about it being made without ample discussion with the union.
3. Seek examples from other similar work situations about how the use/misuse of radios is handled. Learn if there are alternative ways to have the use of radios—ways that respect the new concern for hearing conservation ruling.
4. Enlist support for review of this ruling. Management doesn’t want a lot for unhappy employees. Are there others displeased as are you? Numbers matter.

Over the years we have had received many questions about radios within the workplace. No one answer applies to all situations, but you might find some of our advice relevant to your situation. You can read them by looking under the category Music/Noise At Work in our Archive. I have listed two Q&As for you to look at:

Is It Illegal to Play Music in the Warehouse? January 27, 2016 Bill Gorden Music/Noise At Work

Are There OSHA Rules About Radios?
January 8, 2009 Tina Lewis Rowe Music/Noise At Work

Are There OSHA Rules About Radios?

Fighting those who make rules that you don’t like usually is not an effective way to build a good working relationship. You will need to decide if this rule is worth the effort it will take. Of course you know you are paid to work and are not paid to listen to the radio. But your argument is that you can do both. So don’t give up without learning if you can do both by taking a cheerful approach to finding if both is possible as they were for years. Remember the big picture of having a successful company and good working relationships. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
William Gorden
Dr Gorden,
Sorry for the slow response. I was traveling on business and let the email slip thru the cracks.
If still of value my response would be.

OSHA requires a hearing conservation program when noise level testing in a facility exceeds 85 DB over a time weighted average of 8 hours. I would guess that the noise in a shop making these cylinders might approach that level in itself. Adding additional sound would likely push it into a danger zone. Ideally OSHA would require that they engineer the sound away, but if not possible then hearing protection would be required.
I don’t believe that a required compliance with a federal safety standard would necessitate a bargained agreement with the union. The laws are the laws, no company can ignore to comply simply because the employees choose not to.

Hope that has some value, and of course I would love to be of assistance in the future,
Bob Byers,Customized Training & Development LLC, OSHA