In an interpretation letter dated September 6, 2019
, the OSHA answers an employer’s question about the use of headphones in the workplace.
The employer requested clarification about whether headphones equipped with a built-in volume limiter are allowed on a construction site.
In the interpretation, OSHA gives some common-sense advice about the use of headphones in the workplace. While there is no specific OSHA standard that prohibits
headphones on a job site, workers listening to music can create a safety hazard. If the employee’s music masks sounds like alarms, moving equipment, machinery, traffic, danger signals, or verbal warnings, the results could be tragic.
In addition, OSHA clarifies that “a portable music player is not a substitute for hearing protection…”
Are My Headphones OSHA Approved?
With respect to the “OSHA approved” or “100% OSHA compliant” claims found on some products, OSHA makes it abundantly clear that the Agency “does not register, certify, approve, or otherwise endorse commercial or private sector entities, products, or services. Therefore, any such claims by a manufacturer are misleading.”
While this specific interpretation was a response to a question about OSHA’s noise exposure rules for construction sites (29 CFR 1926.52), OSHA also enforces hearing protection requirements for general industry workplaces. OSHA requires annual training
for employees exposed to noise at or above an 8-hour time-weighted-average (TWA) of 85 decibels (see 29 CFR 1910.95).
Long term exposure to loud or high-pitched noise can cause irreversible damage to employees’ hearing. In environments where employees are exposed to noise above permissible limits, employers should implement a proper hearing protection program that includes employee monitoring and notifications, audiometric testing, hearing protection, training, and recordkeeping.
For more information about who needs a hearing protection program, see Question of the Week: Hearing Conservation.
Earlier this month, OSHA increased civil penalties
for violations of workplace safety standards.
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