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Aug 04

Kate Gardner

Hearing loss within the workplace – The use of headphones and the law


A recent study suggests that 25% of workers are risking noise induced hearing loss by using their headphones at work. With evidence supporting the fact that hearing problems within the workplace are becoming more frequent, do you have responsibility as an employer to regulate the use of headphones within your working environment?

According to European regulations, workers must not experience noise levels above 85 decibels during an eight hour day. An MP3 player at full volume blasts on average 100 decibels into the user’s ear. Even taking this into consideration, there are no specific health and safety regulations that ban the use of headphones in the workplace; it is instead left to each employer to make this decision based on a risk assessment of headphone use.

Common risks of headphone use

The main reason for prohibiting headphones would be if their use hinders your employee’s ability to be aware of the dangers around them. When making this decision, you must take into consideration the following questions:

  • Can alarms and emergency signals be heard above the noise of the workplace and the headphones?
  • Are you still aware of the risks around you?
  • Can you hear instruction and still lead a productive day?
  • Can headphone use lead to dangerous distractions?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you do have grounds for banning the use of headphones within the workplace. Howeverbefore you make these decisions, it is also important to take into consideration the reasons why your staff members might want to use their headphones whilst working. The use of headphones can help to set the expectation that you are occupied, prevent interruptions and distractions and help to create an isolated personal work zone.

Protecting your employees

It is important to consider the above points in relation to your employee’s working environment. Warehouses and driving jobs where you need to be constantly aware of the dangers around you are prime examples of prohibiting headphone use. Alternatively, office environments can benefit from staff being able to isolate themselves from what can often be a distracting setting.

If you are allowing headphone use, it is wise to put into place a proper procedure to follow, including:

  • Keeping volume to a reasonable level to protect your hearing.
  • Be considerate of those working around you – if your music can be heard through your headphones, it can act as a distraction to others.
  • Make sure that listening to music is aiding your productivity and not hindering it.
  • Ensure that you can still hear alarms, instructions, phone calls etc.

Protecting your employees’ safety and hearing is of upmost importance within the working environment. It is essential to remember that hearing loss claims can hinge on an employer’s ability to provide evidence of the measures taken to guard against hearing loss. Take the vital steps to educate your employees about hearing protection and provide the right equipment and educational materials, in order to protect not only your staff, but also your business.

Kate Gardner

Health and Safety Trainer at International Workplace

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