news category created 4 July 2008 written by Mick Glossop
Article contribution from www.audioprointernational.com
While most have experienced a period of ear ringing after sitting front row at a rock concert, the real risk is for those who work in the entertainment industry. With daily exposure to aurally damaging sound levels, these people are at risk for permanent hearing loss. Bartenders, bouncers, members of crew and countless others fall into this category, and it is the responsibility of their employers to ensure that proper measures are taken to eliminate the damage.
As of April 6 2008, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will hold those employers accountable for controlling the work environment to reduce noise levels and provide appropriate measures to protect employees where these conditions exist. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations) is the definitive document that will replace those issued in 1989.
The entertainment industry was given a two-year pass on the guidelines issued in 2005. Now the question remains: what has the industry done to prepare for these new regulations, and, more importantly, what needs do employers need to do to comply with the regulations.
HSE has declared that there is definite evidence that exposure to certain sound level definitely causes hearing damaging, as such, the noise regulations require each employer to manage control, reduce and monitor this exposure and risk of its employees and freelancers.
The places that fall under the jurisdiction of the regulation are defined as “all workplaces where a) live music is played or b) recorded music is played in a restaurant, bar, public house, discotheque or nightclub, or alongside live music or a live dramatic or dance performance”.
In these environments the daily personal exposure to noise of a employee are outlined in terms of upper and lower exposure action values, with the lower set as a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 80 dB (A-weighted) and a peak sound pressure of 135 dB (C-weighted) and the upper level set at 87 db and an spl of 140 db (C-weighted).
With this level set, the employer must asses whether employees are at risk for hearing damage and measuring the level, type and duration of exposure while taking into consideration the exposure to peak sound pressure levels and the effects that this exposure will have on the employees. Further consideration needs to be taken for the noise level effects in conjunction with the use of ototoxic substances at work, or between noise and vibration.
The regulation also requires employers to consider installing alternative equipment designed to reduce noise emissions and ensure that risk of his employees is reduced to the lowest level possible. If the levels cannot be reduced, they are required to provide sufficient ear attenuators (eg, with a protection factor of 30 dB). Further to this, employers are expected to mark areas those areas where hearing protection must be worn.
With that said, it is not as easy as buying a box of earplugs for the staff. The regulations state that employers should modify any equipment that produces sound levels above the stated levels and take into consideration the design of work areas, workstations and rest areas to maximize hearing protection. This could be as easy as relocating a speaker above a cashier’s workstation to minimize exposure. Whether it is a giant speaker cabinet or a noisy refrigerator, none of them are safe from the HSE jurisdiction.
Providing proper training and regular testing is also essential for employers. The training should be focused on educating employees on how to minimise their exposure, as well as why and how to detect and report signs of hearing damage. Employers should also maintain regular hearing tests with records kept on file for review by the HSE or associated regulatory bodies. If, during the testing, it is determined that an employee has experienced hearing loss, the employer must assign said person to alternative duties where their hearing will not be further damaged.
The document also calls for work schedules to be designed with adequate time for workers to rest their hearing and take measures to ensure that the area is also free of noise levels that exceed the assigned amounts.
It will be interesting to see how these new rules affect the industry. With the large cost associated with running a successful venue, it is hard enough to get a club owner to follow a band’s rider, much less redesign work areas with its employee’s hearing in mind. Most owners would regard this as an obvious occupational hazard typical of the environment. But like most things in life, fear of lawsuits is usually the catalyst that puts people into action. It might take a bigger venue getting hit with a giant lawsuit for action to ensue, but, no doubt, theHSE will be coming down hard on those who do not follow the rules.