OSHA has commented on safety and the use of personal headphones on construction sites. OSHA discourages their use in the workplace because they prevent the wearer from receiving auditory cues about the surrounding environment and because they are ineffective at preventing noise-related damage to the ears, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle.
In the OSHA pocket booklet "Protecting Yourself from Noise in Construction," the agency comments directly on the use of the headphones. At construction sites with high noise levels, OSHA says that neither hearing aids nor the headphones for personal music players are as effective as sound-attenuating headphones or earplugs.
Wearing personal headphones in the workplace also presents a hazard for personnel operating moving equipment, such as lift trucks. For the operator of moving equipment auditory cues in the environment can be essential elements of safety. Verbal directions or even orders for an emergency stop can be obscured by the use of personal headphones.
Personal headphones present a distraction to the worker wearing them. In a high-risk situation such as crane operations or work on the deck of a ship, personal headphones will interfere with the use of radio equipment used to control such operations. Such distractions can lead to injury or death should a worker become trapped or crushed by a moving load.
The use of headphones in an office space or other locations where there is little danger of being struck by moving equipment depends on an individual employer's culture and general office courtesy. Those who suffer from a disruptive auditory condition, such as tinnitus -- a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears -- may experience some relief from the use of headphones that deliver music or a masking sound.