How personal listening devices turn into workplace hazards

Dec 04, 2013

Personal listening devicesPeople wearing personal listening devices (PLDs), such as iPods and other MP3 players, are everywhere - on the bus, walking down the street, ahead of you in line... PLDs are also popular in the workplace, but are users and their co-workers at risk of injury?

Opponents will tell you that PLDs can be distracting, increase the possibility of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), decrease users' awareness of their surroundings, and put them at risk of being caught in machines and other equipment. Ask proponents, and they'll say PLDs can mask tinnitus, reduce stress, relieve boredom, and boost morale. For people whose jobs are repetitive or monotonous, PLDs may promote productivity.

Are PLDs suitable for your workplace?

For workplaces grappling with this question, the first step is to conduct a hazard assessment. Here are some considerations:

  • Can PLDs be used safely in your workplace? For instance, will PLDs distract users from tasks at hand? Would users be able to hear and identify warning signals, such as the backup beeps on motorized equipment?

  • Would PLDs interfere with safe use of machinery and equipment?

  • Would PLDs compromise regular communications with co-workers and supervisors? Would the devices block audio alarms or shouted safety warnings?

  • Would PLDs in noisy environments add to workers' noise exposure levels? Would the devices compromise hearing conservation programs?

  • Are there certain job functions that cannot be done safely while a person is using a PLD? Other functions that could? Is it safe to use PLDs in some areas but not others, such as office vs. production areas?

  • Are maximum volume settings set at a safe level? Maximum volume settings on many PLDs can be adjusted. Do users know how to do this? Do they understand the potential threat that high volume settings pose to their hearing?

After conducting the assessment, formulate a policy that reflects the findings of your hazard assessment. Possible steps include the following:

  • Get management commitment at the outset, involve the joint health and safety committee, and set firm deadlines for drafting, reviewing and implementing the policy.

  • Draft the policy, explaining the rationale behind it, defining PLDs, and indicating who the policy applies to, where devices can or can't be used, and the consequences of violating the policy.

  • Seek feedback on the draft policy, finalizing it only after stakeholder questions and concerns have been addressed.

  • Inform all employees of the policy, the safety rationale behind it, and how to comply.

  • Address any concerns raised by employees openly and honestly.

  • Apply the policy to everyone, including customers, on-site contractors, and other visitors.

How we can help

Protecting workers from hazards of any kind starts with an assessment. Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) hazard assessment resources include

  • courses - public classroom and e-courses
  • free downloads, such as assessment tools, checklists and inspection forms
  • consulting services.

WSPS consultants can help you recognize, assess and control chemical, physical or biological agents. Specific noise-related services include basic noise mapping and dose level monitoring.

Learn more about WSPS's consulting services, or book a complementary field visit to review your employees' exposure status. Call 1-877-494-WSPS (9777) or 905-614-1400.