Workplaces that allow the use of personal or portable music players, especially if workers use these with headphones, must understand the associated safety risks.
Personal music players, especially with headphones, may:
- hide noises or auditory cues workers need to hear when at work to remain safe, such as critical verbal instructions, warnings and nearby mobile plant
- lead to noise-induced hearing loss, which is a permanent disability.
High noise levels are also proven to contribute to fatigue and slower reaction times.
Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must ensure that people in the workplace are not exposed to health and safety risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, and this includes controlling any risks associated with personal music players and headphones.
Workers should ensure they follow the direction of their PCBU. Regardless of whether direction on personal music players is provided, workers also have a duty to be conscious of their own health and safety.
PCBUs, in consultation with workers, should determine if personal music players are safe to use in their particular workplace and, if they are, introduce suitable parameters around their use.
Although some risks in this page may also apply to the use of personal music devices outside of the workplace, a PCBU has the ability to control these risks within the workplace.
When deciding if the use of personal music players is appropriate in the workplace, consider whether noise from the device:
- blocks out other noises that the wearer needs to hear, such as verbal and signal warnings or the presence of mobile plant and machinery
- is distracting and causes loss of concentration in tasks where this is safety critical
- could reduce the situational/spatial awareness of the wearer, to the extent that their safety is compromised
- has the potential to be too loud, which may result in direct physical hearing damage.
Each workplace has different risks and requirements that need to be considered in regards to personal music player use appropriate to their work situation.
Hazardous noise environments can be defined as work environments where noise levels regularly exceed 85 dB(A) and personal hearing protection such as earmuffs is used.
In these situations, personal music players should not be used because:
- using an audio device earpiece within personal hearing protection, such as placing music earbuds within earmuffs, will not achieve a suitable ‘fit’ to protect the ear from damaging noise
- workers in hazardous noise environments are required to undergo 2-yearly audiometric tests to determine if their personal hearing protection is working effectively, and regular use may interfere with the accuracy of these results
- music noise can mask warning signals that have already been partially masked by the personal hearing protection.
In noise environments that occasionally exceed 85 dB(A) some or all of the above factors may still apply. This should be taken into consideration by PCBUs when determining instructions appropriate to their workplace.
dB(A), or A-weighted decibels, are used to measure the loudness of sounds as perceived by the human ear. A standard office environment is generally less than 65 dB(A). The acceptable noise exposure standard in the workplace is 85 dB(A) averaged over an 8-hour period.
Note: This information considers personal music players from a health and safety perspective only. Even if, through risk assessment, there is deemed to be no such risks, ultimately PCBUs have the right to permit or prevent the use of personal music players in the workplace. This decision may also include non-work health and safety factors.