This question surfaces online on a regular basis and was the subject of a debate at this year’s Health & Safety North seminar in EventCity Manchester.
The anti-headphone argument typically goes something like this: “Tsch, people these days and their headphones. They can’t possibly work and listen to music, not to mention it’s bad for morale if workers are in their own little worlds?”
Benefit of Listening to Music at Work?
On the other hand, for lone workers and night shift employers it can be welcome company or even a distraction that doesn’t affect their productivity or skills.
Either way, it is probably understandable why some managers don’t want to see a younger employee gyrating around the office, and God forbid, singing along.
It’s not hard to find posts on the issue, both for and against, but the Health & Safety North debate centred more on the legal duty of managers and employers to keep their employees safe when it comes to Noise at Work limits.
What are the Consequences?
Most people want to be the boss who allows some fun in the workplace, as long as it doesn’t compromise safety or productivity, but what if that person is listening to music on their headphones that could potentially damage their hearing? Where does the responsibility lie and are employees opening themselves up to future noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) claims?
Listening to music on headphones does have its risks – over time and the older you get, it can lead to hearing loss as the hairs in your ear canal stiffen and block sounds getting through to the ear drum. The longer and louder you listen the more potential damage can occur. You don’t need to be a hearing specialist to work that one out.
With NIHL claims still growing, thanks to the cold-calling centres who are trying to drum up business as the PPI gravy train runs dry, there is a key health & safety risk to be taken in account.
What is the Solution?
If you think that listening to music does help productivity then perhaps think about trying to measure that at the outset: try music on and off days and then measure the output.
You can also ensure that employees have regular hearing tests to detect early signs of any deterioration. You may have to play bad cop at work and ban personal music devices, but at least then the you are not opening yourself up to future claims. The employee is always free to crank up their MP3s at home and on their commutes but you have protected them whilst at work.
There are also charities out there that offer help and advice to those concerned or living with hearing loss – Action on Hearing Loss is a good one – but employers need to turn to their health & safety manager or external consultants to ensure they are getting the right advice in this niche area.
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