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Are mp3 Players a Safety Hazard at Work?

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” At least so thought William Congreve, a 17th century English playwright. However, the music Congreve was referring to didn’t come out of technological concoctions such as the mp3 player. Had he been alive today, he might be less concerned with the effects of the music and a lot more concerned with the effects of using this technology, especially on the job.

The mp3 player is fast becoming the method of choice for employees who need their daily dosage of tunes during the workday. While it can be argued that usage of personal music players in the office help employees concentrate by letting them tune out extraneous noise, it should be noted that any productivity gain comes with a price.

The first safety hazard associated with repeated mp3 player use is a condition that results from the hand movements necessary to navigate through a playlist. The British Chiropractic Association has called the movement “unnatural,” stating it separates the joint in the thumb every time the action is performed. The ultimate result of repeating this movement too often is a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). In addition to RSI, the prolonged gripping of the device, the repetitive pushing of the small buttons and the awkward wrist movements can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. As the devices become even smaller with each succeeding product generation, the risk for these conditions will become more prevalent. And as every employer knows, an employee with carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis is not only unproductive, but prone to racking up large medical claims.

The potential for hearing-related problems connected with mp3 player use is another source of alarm. Digital technology permits users to listen to thousands of consecutive hours of music. Older technologies either required users to turn over a cassette or contained only an hour or so of stored music. Either way, the ears had a brief respite from the sound. Also, the higher-quality sound of new music players makes it easier for users to turn up the volume to dangerous levels. High-volume levels can result in tinnitus, a condition in which the sufferer hears continuous buzzing in the ears.

Many tinnitus sufferers complain of buzzing, whooshing, chirping, hissing, ocean waves and even music in their ears. Some people only experience tinnitus occasionally, while others experience it 24 hours a day. The problem is associated with the sensorineural system, which transmits signals from the inner ear to the brain. An employee suffering from tinnitus is not going to exhibit increased levels of concentration.

As if this weren’t enough, employees walking around with earphones not only block out extraneous noise, but everything else, including warnings of imminent danger such as a fire alarm. This puts them at increased risk for personal injury.

For these reasons employers who permit the use of mp3 player or other personal music players in the workplace should establish guidelines concerning the length of time an employee can listen and in what areas mp3 player use is permitted.

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