04th Feb, 2020 Read time 3 minutes

The use of headphones and how it impacts on health and safety

For many offices, headphones have become commonplace with more computer work that requires intense focus. Research indicates that they help with concentration, stress, and productivity. However, whilst they do not pose any noticeable health and safety issues within an office environment, in more industrial workplaces like factories and building sites they may not be quite so beneficial.

OSHA has released multiple statements expressing concern over the increasing use of headphones in workplaces, and the potential distraction they may cause.


What are the benefits of using headphones in the workplace?

For many, headphones are a necessity when it comes to keeping productivity and performance up at work, but they may also have some subtle benefits for health and safety in the workplace. Research conducted by Spotify indicates that workers are up to 61% more happy and productive when listening to headphones in the workplace. There may, of course, be a bias here given the motivations of Spotify to keep people listening to music.

Music, for many, invokes positive memories and emotions, which can improve an employee’s mood while they are working. This helps them to produce better work and feel more accomplished at the end of the day. Further research by Lesiuk indicated that over a 5-week test period, the weeks in which employees were not allowed to listen to music led to a poorer quality of work being turned in.


What are the dangers of using headphones in certain workplaces?

As stated, OSHA have on several occasions made clear their view that headphones should be used with extreme caution in construction and other safety-critical industries.

Current guidelines suggest that employers consider how the use of headphones creates or augments hazards other than noise damage. The governing body felt that the overuse of headphones could lead to higher accident rates, misheard instructions and a general increase in the number of potential hazards on a construction site.

Towards the end of 2019, an issue arose over the fact that headphone manufacturers were advertising some of their products as OSHA approved. This for many indicated that they would be safe to use throughout a construction site. However after the issue was exposed, OSHA released a statement clarifying that they do not endorse any privately distributed products or services.

From a legal standpoint, whilst OSHA has not put forward a specific standard that deals with headphones, employers may still be liable if they do not properly consider the effect that headphones may have on workplace hazards.

In addition to OSHA’s concerns, statistics also back up the need for a considered approach to headphone use management in the workplace. An estimated 47 people were killed in road traffic incidents from 2010 to 2011 due in part to headphone use, and the stats have continued to show a worryingly high mortality rate. Whilst this is not related to a specific workplace, a lot of the dangers shown are applicable to workplaces where vehicles and machinery are used.


How can I effectively manage the use of headphones within my workplace?

The use of headphones in a workplace can bring a significant benefit depending on the type of environment you operate in. If you work in a traditional office, introducing free basic headphones for employees could be a ‘quick win’ for improving the happiness and productivity of your workforce.

Alternatively, if you are responsible for the health and safety of a construction site or factory floor, headphones could do more damage than good. It may lead to employees missing safety critical instructions. Taking a stricter policy on headphones here and ensuring they are not worn in areas of the workplace where they may cause damage will lower the risk of serious incidents occurring.

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