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Electronic devices that connect to headphones and earbuds are ubiquitous these days. Whether people are walking down the street, riding the subway or sitting down for coffee at a cafe, it is not unusual for them to be listening to music on an mp3 player, smartphone or laptop. Depending on a company's policies regarding personal computer use, some employees may even wear headphones while they are working.

However, it may be wise for employers to work with hr services to craft guidelines on the use of headphones during work hours, associate editor Max Mihelich wrote in a column for Workforce magazine. This is not necessarily a matter of workplace productivity or personal conduct, but it is a matter of protecting employees from long-term hearing loss.

Hearing loss trend is rising
A growing number of people in the U.S. are experiencing problems with their hearing that are not age-related. According to the American Osteopathic Association, about 1 in 5 teenagers in the country have some degree of hearing loss, a rate that is higher than it was during the 1980s and 1990s. This is largely attributable to the use of headphones.

Signs of hearing loss include difficulty understanding speech in places that are noisy or have poor acoustics, having to turn up the volume on television sets or radios to levels higher than in the past, hearing muffled sounds or experiencing various sensations in the ear, such as ringing, roaring, hissing, buzzing or feeling that the ear is plugged.

The type of hearing loss that is caused by excessive headphone or earbud use is irreversible, which underscores the importance of workplace guidelines.

Writer takes inspiration from The Who
In his column for Workforce magazine, Mihelich recalled how Pete Townshend, frontman of The Who and one of his favorite musicians, discussed at length in interviews his struggles with tinnitus and hearing loss, which were likely the consequences of being a rock singer surrounded by noise. Mihelich suggested that employers become proactive in protecting their workers.

"Music has become hyperaccessible thanks to the digital revolution, and we've grown accustomed to seeing people, not just millennials, wearing headphones almost everywhere – and not only for listening to music but also talking on the phone," Mihelich wrote. "So, maybe it would be a good idea for employers to remind their employees every once in a while to limit their headphone use in the office. Perhaps send around a Townshend interview on the subject, along with a business case against long-term headphone use."

According to the AOA, headphones and earbuds should be used a maximum of 60 minutes a day, with volume at only 60 percent of capacity, to protect hearing.