Is It Safe for Workers to Wear Earphones?

By: Cory Portnuff, University of Colorado Hospital, Audiologist and National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) Expert

With the widespread use of wireless earphones, many workers are requesting the option to listen to music. Employers should consider several factors in whether earphones are appropriate:

  • Auditory Awareness: Is the workplace a safe place to be using earphones? Can the worker hear and identify a warning signal, such as a forklift in reverse? Remember that some types of earphones do block out outside sounds, and loud music can mask warning signals.
  • Communication: Does the employee need to communicate regularly with coworkers or supervisors? If not, is there a way to quickly get their attention in an urgent situation?
  • Job Functions: Can the job be done while listening to music? Podcasts or audiobooks? This may vary by job function—a machinist may use auditory cues to know that their equipment is working properly, and use of earphones may limit this. Also, does music distract or improve attention?
  • Noise Exposure: Music players can be very loud (see image, above). Also, workers who are enrolled in a Hearing Conservation Program may need hearing protection. If hearing protection devices are required, hearing protection with an appropriate noise reduction rating (NRR) must be used. Some earmuffs with NRRs may have radios or earphones built in, and employers should evaluate if their use has the potential to push the employee’s noise exposure into a hazardous range.

Percent of device volume as it relates to decibel level on the A-scale (dBA) and the number of hours of listening permitted within recommended exposure limits to retain hearing.

Allowing earphone use in the workplace has both risks and benefits. Employees may perceive greater job satisfaction, if they can control their auditory environments and listen to what they want. But safety professionals should be cautious about allowing earphones, if there is any risk to the worker’s safety or hearing.

Visit NHCA at:

Share on Socials!

Related Articles

Related Articles

Should Employers Require Covid-19 Vaccinations?

Vaccines approved under Experimental Use Authorizations (EUAs) will be available soon. In theory, this should make re-opening businesses easier. As immunity develops within the population, the ...
Read More

Out of Sight, Never Out of Mind: Keeping Remote & Lone Workers Safe

By: Cindy Pauley, Contributor Employers have a duty to protect all workers, including those working alone or remotely. OSHA defines a lone worker as “an employee ...
Read More

ANSI/ASSP Z490 EHS Training Standard

  Sponsored By: “Vector Solutions sees the ANSI/ASSP Z940 standards on EHS training as incredibly valuable resources for everyone involved in EHS training—training producers like ourselves, ...
Read More