When Tuning in Means Tuning Out – the Effects of Music on Workplace Safety


The year was 1987. The popularity of the personal Walkman (for listening to a rockin’ cassette collection) was skyrocketing. Due to growing safety concerns and an increasing risk of accidents, OSHA issued a memo that year prohibiting the use of Walkmen in certain workplaces with high noise levels.

Fast forward to 2016. iPhone’s and Podcasts are at their height of popularity, and music streaming services are everywhere you turn. More than ever, people love listening to media at work through their headphones. But is there still reason to be concerned about safety?

The Pros

According to doctors and professionals, there is a strong case for listening to music at work. Biologically speaking, listening to melodies can help the brain release dopamine to the body, making you feel more rewarded and fulfilled. Music and talk shows can make a repetitive job feel more interesting, which ultimately leads to happier workers. There are also studies showing increased productivity: those who listen to music complete tasks more quickly, and even come up with better ideas, than those who do not.

The Cons

While offices may focus on productivity, warehouses and other work facilities are more concerned with safety. The publication Injury Prevention says that environments with moving vehicles or equipment pose a particular risk to those wearing headphones. Playing music not only keeps these employees from hearing warning sounds, but can compromise their concentration and general alertness. The risk of loose earbud cords is also a risk, as it could become caught in machines or conveyor belts.

The Compromises

Many companies have developed a personalized policy on the issue of headphones at work. Some companies allow intervals of listening time or restrictions in certain hazardous zones, while others have found more inventive ways of addressing the issue. Amazon, for instance, lets warehouse employees listen to tunes as long as one earbud is out, allowing them to hear their surroundings and use caution.

To go a step further, Amazon is also currently working on new technologies that may help other companies solve the headphone debacle. The company was recently awarded a patent to develop noise-cancelling headphones that utilize the same voice recognition technology from their recent product, the Echo. This tech will identify trigger words, phrases, or sounds that require the listener’s attention and pause the music so that they can hear it.

The Verdict

Ultimately, the choice to allow or restrict headphone usage is up to your company. It’s important to consider both the pros and the cons, and the risks specific to your facility, in order to develop guidelines that keep employees both happy and safe.





Carrie Charity Murphy is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions and Improve comedienne based in Louisville, Kentucky. She lives with her husband Ben and their two dogs, Sprocket and Ms. Brisby.
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