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Does OSHA Prohibit the Use of Headphones to Listen to Music on a Construction Site?

January 6, 2020

Source: designer491/Adobe Stock

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a letter of interpretation in response to an employer’s question regarding the use of headphones to listen to music on a construction site. The employer inquired, “Some headphones are equipped with a built-in volume limiter and are marked as “OSHA approved” for use in the workplace. Is there a specific OSHA regulation that prohibits the use of headphones to listen to music on a construction site?”

In response to the inquiry, the letter stated that there is no specific OSHA standard that prohibits the use of headphones on a construction site. However the letter went on to explain that OSHA does have specific standards for Occupational Noise Exposure in construction (29 CFR 1926.52) that sets permissible noise exposure limits and requires the employer to protect employees subject to sound levels exceeding these limits. OSHA’s Hearing Protection standard (29 CFR 1926.101) also requires employers to provide employees with hearing protection whenever noise levels exceed the permissible limits. However, a portable music player is not a substitute for hearing protection.

While reflecting on the various hazards inherent at construction sites, the letter went on to explain that, “The use of headphones on a construction site may be permissible at managerial discretion, unless such use creates or augments other hazards apart from noise. For example, struck-by hazards are one of the four leading causes of death in construction. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that employees are not exposed to struck-by hazards while performing their work. 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.”

Lastly, while addressing the issue of various manufacturers addressing their headphones as “OSHA approved” or “100% OSHA compliant” the letter clarified that, “OSHA does not register, certify, approve, or otherwise endorse commercial or private sector entities, products, or services.”

The key takeaway from this letter is that despite the fact that OSHA does not have a specific standard that prohibits the use of headphones to listen to music on a construction site, it is the responsibility of the employer to conduct a thorough hazard assessment and determine an appropriate policy regarding the use of headphones on the work site. If the use of headphones would expose employees to potential hazards on a work site, the employer could still be liable for violation of OSHA’s safety and health standards.

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