Are iPods safe at work?

Photo credit: Fabrizio Lonzini on Flickr

If you just got an iPod for Christmas, you may be interested in the following question that came up recently.

Jason Allgood, an EHS engineer in Austin, Texas, asked this question on the EHS Professionals Group on LinkedIn. His company is creating safety policy for workers who make their semiconductor equipment by hand with the use of cranes.

“Management would like for their employees to listen to music since they work long hours and some of the work is very repetitive. The background noise is well below the OSHA noise requirements, so the use of ‘earbuds’ would strictly be for entertainment and not to block out noise,” Jason wrote on LinkedIn.

“We are concerned that the use of ‘earbuds’ by employees would be distracting and possibly put an employee in danger if they cannot hear what is going on around them. I cannot find anything by OSHA on this. What do you do at your company? What are you thoughts?”

Worker in bottle factory, 2000. Photo from the Seattle Municipal Archives

Good question. I asked my friend the audiologist what she thought.

“Listening to music on an iPod at less than 50% volume is fine for an eight hour shift, providing that hearing protection is not otherwise required,” said Dr. Tracey Demmon of Bellingham, Washington, via Facebook message.

“Listening to an ipod at higher than 50% volume reduces the overall time that you can enjoy your music before hearing damage occurs. Listening in a noisy place changes everything. If the factory setting is such where the sound levels exceed 85 dB, then the worker is required to protect their hearing, and they’d be causing hearing loss if they substituted protection for another sound source.”

My hope is that workers are allowed to enjoy music whenever possible. Listening to music is energizing and I can imagine it leading to improved productivity – especially when people are performing monotonous tasks. The only tricky part would be convincing workers to keep it at the 50% volume, and how would employers know if workers are obeying the volume restrictions? Would it be too distracting, volume levels aside? I’m not yet convinced which policy I would support.

Any thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Are iPods safe at work?

  1. Kyle Thill

    I’d lean towards it being a distraction and would worry that from safety to workmanship if there is a lack of focus there may/will be consequences.

  2. Andrew Cooper

    I’m with Kyle on this one. The article appears to address the hearing conservation aspect of the iPod and not the distraction. In many workplace situations they are prohibited due to the distraction and the impact on the ability to hear warning signals. One of the biggest challenges at work today is being in the moment and concentrating on the task. I think music piped in over speakers is one thing but an iPod with earphone can isolate a worker from their environment and workplace hazards.

    Keep up the great work on the blog! ….Andrew

  3. Kevin Jones

    Most ipods can have volume limits set so this may be a condition of use in a workplace.

    I don’t know if music itself is the distraction as radios have been played in workplaces for decades. Ancillary hazards could come from people being engaged with the music to the extent of being distracted through singing or dancing.

    There is also the hazard of the ipod cables, depending on the task being undertaken. The article above mentions crane handling.

    I wonder whether personal music players would be necessary if the machinery was quieter.

    Lastly, and this would be my major suggestion, look at the jobs themselves and determine why they are monotonous. There may be other ways to provide lasting safety improvements than through ipods.


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