Another study found that 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for cell-phone related incidents, including falling off bridges and walking in front of moving traffic. (Accident Analysis and Prevention, August, 2013)
It's not hard to imagine the same is true in work environments such as construction sites, warehouses or loading docks.
Researchers from the University of Maryland identified 116 reported deaths or injuries of pedestrians wearing headphones between January 2004 and June 2011. Over half the pedestrians were hit by trains - even though horns or sirens sounded in 29 percent of these incidents. If these pedestrians didn't hear a train, how many earbud-wearing workers won't hear verbal directions - or the backup beep of a forklift?
MP3 players have become standard-issue items for much of today's population, but portable music players are nothing new. Workers have long used music to combat the boredom of monotonous tasks. OSHA issued a memo regarding use of music headphones back in 1987:
"Use of Walkmen in noise environments in excess of Tables G-16 and D-1 is a violation. Use of Walkmen over required ear protection is a violation. Use of Walkmen in occupational noise less than Tables G-16 or D-1 is at managerial discretion unless its use causes a serious safety hazard to warrant issuance of a 5(a)(1)."Loose earbud cords could also become caught in machinery or pose an electrical hazard similar to metal jewelry. The Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Division has declared music devices a potential hazard because they "impair a worker's ability to hear surrounding sounds. This is especially true if the user is working around moving equipment or in circumstances where a worker must be able to hear warning sounds. Furthermore, because these devices compromise the user's general alertness and concentration, they may be considered a hazard at any workplace."
As with most workplace safety issues, there are many elements to consider. A clear policy governing use of MP3 players is your best bet.