Anyone who works in construction knows how important it is to comply with OSHA Standards. When it comes to hearing protection, there are several options to choose from including earmuffs, headphones, and earplugs. In this article, I explain how to choose the best OSHA approved headphones and share the top models currently on the market.
Before we look at the best headphones, I want to go over two key points. Technically, OSHA does not approve headphones. However, OSHA Standard 1910.95 requires workers who are exposed to 85db for 8 hours or longer to wear hearing protection. Standard 1910.95 paragraph (c)(1) states:
The employer shall administer a continuing, effective hearing conservation program, as described in paragraphs (c) through (o) of this section, whenever employee noise exposures equal or exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level (TWA) of 85 decibels measured on the A scale (slow response) or, equivalently, a dose of fifty percent.
How to Use NRR to Select OSHA Approved Headphones
The second step is to use a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) to calculate whether the headphones provide adequate hearing protection. Since NRR is inherently inaccurate, OSHA Standard 1910.95 App B offers several methods for using NRR to calculate “the adequacy of hearing protector attenuation.”
The easiest method is to subtract 7dB from the stated NRR of the piece of hearing equipment, then subtract that number from the A-weighted sound level in the work area to get the final dB level. This method also requires the use of a sound level meter set to the A-weighing network by your employer.
Now that you know which work environments require hearing protection and how to use NRR to calculate whether the stated NRR is adequate for your work environment, let’s check out the headphones.
Top 5 Best OSHA Approved Headphones
|#1) Howard Leight by Honeywell Sync Stereo MP3 Earmuff|
|#2) 3M Worktunes Connect Hearing Protector|
|#3) ISOtunes PRO 2.0 Bluetooth Earplug Headphones|
|#4) Elgin Ruckus Earplug Earbuds|
|#5) 3M Worktunes Connect + Gel Ear Cushions Hearing Protector|
OSHA Approved Headphones Reviews
Before buying a pair of headphones for the job site, it’s a good idea to check with your employer. The five pairs of headphones above give you the best chance of getting the green light since they’re specifically designed for use around heavy machinery. Also, there’s a good chance your employer is already familiar with 3M Worktunes and Howard Leight by Honeywell hearing protection products.
There are two headphone styles that work best for the workplace, and they are earmuffs and earplug headphones. You may have also seen wireless earbuds, but there’s a slimmer chance of them getting approved because they fall out more easily than wired earplug headphones. However, if you’re interested in OSHA approved wireless earbuds, the pair below is a good option to consider:
Now that you’ve considered those points, let’s move to the individual reviews of each of the headphones in my Top 5 to help you decide which pair suits you.
#1) Howard Leight by Honeywell Sync Stereo MP3 Earmuff
If you want to take the economical route, the Sync Stereo model by Howard Leight is the first place to look. Howard Leight tests its headphones to meet ANSI requirements and to verify an NRR of 25dB, which is more than enough for OSHA approval in most work environments.
The headphones feature a 3.5mm AUX input jack to use with all audio devices including phones with AUX jacks. Do note that if you own the latest iPhone models, your phone may not have an audio jack, and you’ll want to opt for a Bluetooth earmuff. If your phone or MP3 player does have an audio jack, the convenience of no battery power makes these headphones mighty convenient.
Other highlights are the Air Flow Control technology to reduce sounds of all frequencies, their lightweight nature, replaceable snap-in ear cushions, and a padded headband for comfort when wearing them for long hours. Overall, these deliver great value for the money and ample noise reduction for a budget price.
- No Bluetooth connection to worry about, simply plug them into a 3.5mm audio jack
- Approved to meet ANSI standards
- NRR 25 for a budget price
- Comfortable for wearing long hours
- Turn them into a Bluetooth headset with a cheap Bluetooth transmitter
- Good sound quality for the price
- Potentially too small for folks with large head sizes
- Durability issues
- People with large ears may experience discomfort
- The headband might feel too flat
#2) 3M Worktunes Connect Hearing Protector
Of the 3M Worktunes models currently on the market, Connect model 90543-4DC is the best set of OSHA-approved headphones. For not that much more than the cost of the Howard Leight headphones above, you get Bluetooth connectivity and a better overall set of headphones. Like the Howard Leight model, the 3M Connect headset is clean with no antenna or cords to worry about catching while you work.
One feature I really like is the long battery life. You might find they give you enough juice for two 8-hour workdays on a single charge. Additionally, they only weigh about an ounce more than the Howard Leight headset even with the onboard rechargeable battery.
Lastly, if you’re concerned about music quality, you’ll most likely appreciate the audio quality of these over the Howard Leight headset. Plus, these give you the option to make and receive voice calls with an NRR of 24dB for less outside interference.
- Long battery life of 12+ hours per charge
- The ability to make/receive calls
- No wires to worry about
- Lightweight and low-profile
- Very comfortable ear cushions
- Intuitive controls make them easy to pair
- 2+ years of steady use
- Better for people with large heads than Howard Leight Sync Stereo
- Impressive noise reduction
- The Bluetooth range is somewhat limited
- Flat audio quality is typical with earmuff headphones
- They may cause discomfort when worn with glasses
- They may get hot when worn in warm work environments
#3) ISOtunes PRO 2.0 Bluetooth Earplug Headphones
Now, let’s check out the best OSHA-approved earplug headphones. Of the options in this guide, the ISOtunes PRO 2.0 is the most premium option. The obvious advantage here when compared to earmuffs is no need to worry about trapped heat. For people working in hot, humid climates or in hard hats, this type of headphone is the better choice for comfort.
Also, you may have noticed that these provide the highest noise reduction rating at 27db. The feature I really like that makes these headphones unique is the SafeMax volume limiter. These headphones not only block out noise but also ensure that the sounds entering your ears never surpass 85dB.
You’ll also find that these headphones were actually certified to meet ANSI S3.19-1974 to comply with OSHA and NIOSH requirements. All in all, these are the safest bet for employer approval and adequate hearing protection when shopping for earplug-style OSHA-compliant headphones.
- No need to worry about trapped heat
- The highest NRR of 27dB
- Built-in volume control that automatically adjusts the volume to 85dB or lower
- 16+ hour battery life on a single charge
- Built-in noise-canceling mic for voice calls
- IP67 sweat, dust, and waterproof rating
- Better audio quality than earmuff headphones
- Good voice-call quality
- Excellent Bluetooth range
- The most expensive option in this guide
- People with small ear canals may find the tips to be too large
- You may not like the cord design if it tends to get caught in your shirt collar
#4) Elgin Ruckus Earplug Earbuds
Elgin Ruckus earbuds are one of my top-rated white noise headphones, and they also happen to be OSHA compliant. What really makes these headphones special is their unbeatable price. These are well-built headphones that fit very similar to the most effective earplugs. If you’re familiar with this style of earplug, the transition from standard earplug to earplug headphones should be fairly seamless.
Like ISOtunes headphones, Elgin headphones are specifically built to meet OSHA, ANSI, and EPA standards with an NRR of 25. Aside from noise reduction, the Ruckus headphones carry several additional highlights, including an IP65 rating for sealing out dust and moisture.
You’ll also like the durability of the Kevlar-reinforced wire, triple-molded audio jack, and woven nylon case with a 6061 aluminum carabiner. All things considered, these headphones deliver the best value for the money of the five options in this guide.
- The cheapest OSHA approved headphones that are worth it
- Earplug-style tips that don’t fall out
- An excellent noise reduction level
- A good choice for hot, humid work environments to prevent sweating
- Good sound quality for the money
- Comfortable to wear for long hours
- Rated to keep out dust and moisture
- The softest tips of the options in this guide
- No mic for voice calls
- The tips are not replaceable
- No audio controls on the cord
- The cord may feel a bit short and the L-shape connection might collide with a thick phone case
#5) 3M Worktunes Connect + Gel Ear Cushions Hearing Protector
The final option is 3M Worktunes with upgraded gel ear cushions. For people who prefer earmuffs or work in cooler climates, the comfort of the gel ear cushions is just about unbeatable. The gel cushions are both super-soft and conformable to fit all head and ear sizes.
Like the standard 3M Connect model, you get Bluetooth audio with voice calls, a clean design with no antenna or wires, voice assistance, and acceptable sound quality for music. A couple of additional features you might like are the headband cutouts for better comfort when worn with a hat, auto shut-off w/ low battery indicator, and an NRR of 23dB.
The biggest drawback is the weight. Compared to the other two earmuffs in this guide, the gel ear cushions do cause these to weigh more. Additionally, depending on how you feel about the extra cost for the ear cushions, you might prefer the standard Connect model that’s more affordable.
- The most comfortable earmuffs in this guide
- Made to fit comfortably with hats
- The super-long battery life of 16-18 hours per charge
- There’s an audio jack for wired use
- Easy one-button control
- Compatible with all head sizes
- Solidly built to stand the test of time
- Adequate Bluetooth range
- Quality noise cancellation
- The gel ear cushions are more likely to cause sweating in warm climates
- Music might be difficult to hear around heavy machinery
- Not the best choice for voice calls
- The bass might be too low for you
When choosing the best OSHA approved headphones, always be sure to check with your employer before you buy if you have any doubts. For people who like to work in hats or don’t require hard hats, earmuffs are generally cheaper and more comfortable. For people who use hard hats, earplug headphones and wireless noise-canceling earbuds are the clear choices.
My only qualm with wireless earbuds is that they do tend to fall out. Depending on the size of your ear canals, you may or may not experience this issue. Also, they’re the easiest to lose. On the flip side of the coin, if you can get away with using them, the convenience of no cords or wires to worry about is always a luxury.
Finally, be sure to consider the introduction of the article one last time to get a clear understanding of how headphones meet OSHA standards since OSHA does not officially approve headphones. Approval depends on using NRR to calculate actual sound attenuation. Since actual NRR varies from user to user, it’s not the best measure of sound attenuation on its own.