Your workers are tasked with performing physically exhausting activities on a daily basis. They work hard to earn their wage and support your business, so it’s natural to feel inclined to make concessions to improve their work experience and curry their favor. Certain gestures, like bringing coolers filled with ice-cold water bottles or giving them an extra fifteen minutes during a break, can go a long way to show your workers that you care for them and value their loyalty; however, certain permissions cannot be advised. For example, when your workers ask you if they can wear headphones or earbuds to listen to music on the project site, you need to make the decision that is in their best interest — not the popular one.
In this article, the Sarasota construction attorneys at Cotney Construction Law will explain why allowing your workers to listen to music through headphones is a bad idea. Remember, if a worker is injured on your project site, the first thing you should do after reporting the incident to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is consult a Sarasota construction attorney.
OSHA’s Thoughts on the Use of Music Headphones on Construction Sites
According to the standard interpretations of 1926.52 (occupational noise exposure) and 1926.101 (hearing protection) published on September 6, 2019, “there is no specific OSHA regulation that prohibits the use of headphones on a construction site.”
Related: An OSHA Guide to Hearing Protection
Although OSHA recognizes that headphones are not a valid substitute for professional hearing protection, they provide little insight on whether or not they can be used in conjunction with approved hearing protection. For example, an employee who is wearing low-profile, wireless headphones beneath their OSHA-approved hearing protection. Here are some interesting takeaways:
- Headphones can be permitted at managerial discretion, as long as their use doesn’t pose an additional risk to workers.
- Under OSHA’s Hearing Protection standard, employers are required to provide hearing protection when necessary in accordance with Table D-2, which can be found in 1926.52.
- Headphones cannot be used in place of OSHA-approved hearing protection, which means allowing workers to use headphones could put you in violation of either 1926.52 or 1926.101.
- Allowing workers to utilize headphones in a manner that increases their risk of injury or fatality is considered a failure of the employer’s responsibility to ensure that employees are not exposed to work-related hazards, a clear violation of the “general duty clause” of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
- Listening to music could diminish a worker’s ability to perceive other environmental sounds, such as a truck backing up or another worker’s call for help. This could lead to a dangerous situation for one or more parties on the project site.
- Products claiming they are “OSHA approved” or “100 percent OSHA compliant” are inherently misleading, as OSHA does not “register, certify, approve, or otherwise endorse commercial or private sector entities, products, or services.”
- OSHA has yet to establish a clear rule regarding to the use of headphones to listen to music on the project; however, they have made their thoughts clear, noting: “Listening to music may produce a safety hazard by masking environmental sounds that need to be heard, especially on active construction sites where attention to moving equipment, heavy machinery, vehicle traffic, and safety warning signals may be compromised.”
Our Sarasota Construction Lawyers’ Thoughts on the Use of Music Headphones on Construction Sites
Unfortunately, when it comes to music headphones on the project site, the risks outweigh the benefits by a significant margin. We get it. Music can help make the hours on the project site move a little more quickly. In many cases, hearing your favorite song in the middle of a work shift is just the pick-me-up you need to push through any feelings of lethargy or apathy that may be taking over. In most industries, the use of headphones in the workplace is in no way a problem or a distraction. But on the project site, it’s both.
Clear instructions are invaluable on the project site. You need your workforce to operate like a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders, and this can’t be achieved when your workers see you talking but only hear their favorite song on the radio. It’s also important to consider the potential hearing impairments experienced by those wearing headphones.
Consider this: construction sites are loud, really loud. It’s hard to enjoy music when the buzz of the construction site is overwhelming the audio being produced by a pair of standard, Walkman-style headphones. Rather, your workers would need to invest in a noise-cancelling option, probably a model with wireless capabilities — something they could wear beneath employer-provided hearing protection without anyone else noticing. There’s several drawbacks to this, including:
- Too much noise reduction. You’re responsible for reducing noise exposure, not eliminating it altogether. Noise cancelling earbuds combined with traditional hearing protection can increase the risk of struck-by hazards and backover incidents by decreasing a worker’s ability to hear approaching vehicles or nearby machinery.
- Valuable personal items are a distraction. Popular wireless earbuds typically cost $200 or more. Furthermore, many models come with a charging case to keep them charged all throughout the day. Workers may become distracted while putting on/taking off earbuds, charging them, or attempting to pair them with a device. Bluetooth technology can be unreliable, and the last thing you want is to find your worker fiddling with their earbuds for 10-15 minutes at a time. Protecting wireless earbuds from damage may shift a worker’s attention away from the task at hand, too.
- An all-or-none policy is the only way to go. As soon as one worker starts to listen to music on the project site, you can rest assured that others will follow. Rather than ingratiate one worker’s request to wear headphones, contractors should set a hard policy and never allow themselves to waiver. Our Sarasota construction lawyers can help you establish a policy in your employee handbook that mitigates this type of behavior. Can you imagine a project site full of workers listening to music? It would create major communication issues, and you may even find your workers doing things like this.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.