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Landmark Ruling over Musician Exposure to Noise

Musician wins case against the Royal Albert Hall for exposure to noise

“A viola player has won a landmark High Court Judgement against the Royal Opera House.

This case could have a huge knock on effect for the music industry and the health and safety of musicians.

During a rehearsal in September 2012, the musician was seated in front of the brass section of the orchestra, in the orchestra pit at the Royal Albert Hall. During that rehearsal, the noise levels exceeded 130 decibels, roughly equivalent to that of a jet engine. As a result, his hearing was irreversibly damaged. The musician claimed damages for ‘acoustic shock’. Until now, a condition that has never been recognised as being a condition that can be compensated by a court.

In a statement the Royal Opera House stated that, “We do not believe that the Noise Regulations can be applied to an artistic institution in the same manner as in a factory, not least because in the case of the Royal Opera House, sound is not a by-product of an industrial process but is an essential part of the product itself.

This is a complex case and we will consider carefully whether to appeal the judgement.”

The implications of this case could be felt across all manner of live music venues, night clubs and other entertainment venues, where musicians could be exposed in similar circumstances.

We have sought comment in relation to this landmark ruling from Peter Rogers, Managing Director of Sustainable Acoustics:

“This ruling makes clear the need to assess the noise exposure and dose of musicians that function within not just classical orchestras but any musical environment in which they may be exposed to high noise levels.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 places a responsibility on the employer and employee (the musician in this case). An environment where a musician has to raise their voice to be heard only a few meters away is likely to require a detailed assessment.This ruling also raises questions over who is responsible as the employer under, as a premises hosting live music may then have obligations to safeguard the musicians.

The case focused on the level of sound generated by the brass section, which without hearing protection a musician exposed to the sound of a trumpet at 2m in front for example would exceed their daily dose in 5 mins. Whether the musicians craft comes ahead of the protection of their hearing is a question that this case appears to have answered.

The question remains about how the music industry and those employing musicians should respond to achieve the balance between the creating of music for the enjoyment of others and the protection of the musician needed”

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