Radios At Work - Good or Bad?

A lot of jobs in industry can be, let's face it, utterly dull to do hour after hour, day after day. For example I once came across two people whose jobs, for 12 hours a day, was to stand by a conveyor belt of pre-packed layered salads and as they went past, pat them to make sure nothing was sticking up before the lid was sealed on. Twelve hours a day patting salad must drive you crazy.

The temptation for many employers is to provide music via a PA system, to allow employees to wear headphones (under hearing protection if necessary), or provide hearing protection with built-in music players.

Site-Wide PA Systems

This sounds lovely but is a potentially big clash between the employer trying to be nice to their employees and the exposure limits set in the Noise Regs. If a music system is to be heard clearly then it needs to be well above the background noise levels, which due to the dark magic by which decibels work, means a good difference between the music and the background noise of the work, not just one or two decibels. 3dB is barely noticeable and you are probably looking at least at 10dB for the music to be heard over a consistent background noise.

If your site is at say 76dB then hearing protection is not needed, add a nice site-wide music system though and suddenly you are over the magic 85dB(A) limit. The Regs now say you have to do everything reasonably practicable to reduce the noise levels back to a safe volume, so that means turning the stereo off.

If your site noise is already at 90dB(A) then adding a loud music system which can be heard over that will be pushing your noise levels up even further so again, the first thing the Regs say you have to do is eliminate sources of excess noise, and that again is the music.

This is not just theoretical by the way. For example, I did a noise assessment years ago on a company making kitchen units. The daily average for the employees there was just around the 80 to 82dB(A) area, but then they had a damn big stereo blaring out which was pushing them over the 85dB(A) limit. Without the stereo they were fine, with it though they had to wear hearing protection and the employer now had a duty to remove it. This is far from the only time I have sen music systems as the main noise level in a workplace over the years. 

As a side note, if an employer is thinking of installing a music system then make sure it is distributed around the site so the volume is consistent, rather than relying on one or two very loud points blasting out as is often the case.

So site-wide PA systems can be a solution, but can also be a problem.

Headphones under hearing protection

No, just no. OK, next...

There is no point whatsoever in an employer having a noise level of say 90dB(A) and providing ear muffs which reduce the noise levels under the protector to about 70dB(A), then the employee sticks some ear bud headphones underneath the muff and adds that noise all back again by blasting the music out so it drowns out the remaining external noise.

It is worth noting that in the event of a claim for noise induced hearing loss the claimant would probably still win even though the hearing protection had been provided. There is no way to distinguish between hearing loss due to noisy machinery and hearing loss due to high volume music, it is exactly the same. As a claim is decided as 'on the balance of probabilities', i.e. the hearing loss may have been caused by work, then the fact the workplace was loud would probably be enough to swing it.

Hearing protection with built-in music

This one is a good solution, go for it.

There are many forms of hearing protection out there which have FM radios, wired AUX connectors or Bluetooth which can allow music to be played from a phone or other device to the wearer. Some also have two-way speech modules allowing headset-to-headset communication. They work by controlling the noise levels inside the headset and not allowing it to go into any dangerous volume territory. This way they reduce the background noise and add in enough music or radio to be heard while guaranteeing it is not reaching harmful levels.

These are far and away the best solution. And as you may guess, the most expensive one as well.

Peltor ProTac III which has a 3.5mm jack for connecting a phone or external bluetooth unit, around £56 exc VAT.

Peltor ProTac III which has a 3.5mm jack for connecting a phone or external bluetooth unit, around £56 exc VAT.

Possibilities of sharing the cost

Just a suggestion... It is illegal to make employees pay for PPE but technically I don't see why they can't be asked to contribute to units such as this as the reason for it is not safety related but for their own additional comfort. For example, you have a noise risk so make two kinds of plug and two kinds of muff available, for which employees cannot be charged, and they choose what works best for them. But then you could also have an approved radio or MP3 headset which can be used as well, with the employer chipping in the element which would be the same as the standard ear muffs provided, and the employee paying the rest. That way you have control by knowing that the hearing protection is suitable for the job, and aren't charging them for the PPE provided, but are giving them an option to relieve boredom with a fancier set of ear muffs chosen specifically for non-safety purposes, and are making a contribution towards that equal to the standard muffs. Everyone would seem to win. 

The Hearing Protection Data page of this site includes quite a few FM, Bluetooth and MP3 compatible hearing protectors if you want a gander at some. For example:

  • Peltor ProTac series have 3.5mm jacks, some also have Bluetooth
  • Peltor Alert have FM radio and 3.5mm jacks as well
  • Sync Electro has FM radio
  • Sensear has music connection
  • Pelto LiteCom have two-way radio for headset-to-headset communication and MP3 connections