Knowledge Bank

news category created 4 July 2008 written by Mick Glossop

H&S Article 2 contribution from

H&S Article 2 contribution from

Honestly, who doesn’t know a musician or engineer who walks around with constant ringing in their ears? Tinnitus is very common amongst musicians, but it can equally affect staff at clubs, bars, venues and outdoor events. All of these individuals are at high risk for irreversible hearing loss as a result of continued exposure to high sound levels.

The Institute of Acoustics Measurements and Instrumentation Group, in conjunction with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) held a workshop called Playing Safe on April 16th at London’s The Barbican to help the industry work towards meeting the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

Under the new regulations employers have the responsibility to make sure that its’ employers are not at risk of hearing damage due to high noise levels. The entertainment industry was given a two-year pass, and the HSEstated that it had until April 6th of this year to get up to speed with the new rules. Playing Safe focused on educating employers on ways to protect their employees while shifting the opinions of musicians and engineers to help them realize the importance of using hearing protection during a performance.

Dave Smeatham of HSE started off the meeting with some background information on the noise regulations and a brief discussion on the mechanisms involved in hearing damage. Smeatham outlined precautionary practices that can be used to minimize hearing damage, such as absorption methods, physical separation, directional loudspeakers and anti-vibration mounts, while stressing that employers must educate their staff and maintain health surveillance programs in the work place.

Musicians and engineers at rock clubs are not the only ones at risk; orchestral musicians are also in danger for hearing damage. Suzanna Everton, Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner, outlined noise control methods used for orchestral performances. The barriers to protecting these musicians are two fold: first, increased volume levels during a performance are pleasurable to the listeners; and second, these musicians express a great resistance to measures proposed to reduce their exposure. Everton suggested careful management of the issues as a way to resolve this conflict.

One of the biggest problems is the fact that most musicians feel that wearing ear attenuators affects their hearing, and, therefore, hinders their performances. Jacqueline Patel, Noise Scientist for the Health and Safety Laboratory, examined these attitudes and opinions expressed by musicians while suggesting methods of convincing them the great danger they face when not using ear protection.

Chris Durant, Head of technical operations at The Sage, Gateshead venue outlined the ways the new regulations effect an entertainment venue. He pointed out that distributing ear plugs is not the only solution and gave examples of the how the management at Sage has tackled these issues by rotating staff, installing acoustic barriers, examining the layout of the venue and moving people away from sound sources.

While many members of staff in the live sound industry are able to wear hearing protection (i.e. security and first aid staff), sound engineers also feel that wearing earplugs seriously inhibits their ability to mix live sound. Jim Griffiths of Vanguardia Consulting demonstrated the fact that the latest “flat response” hearing protection is designed to help those specific individuals while stating that proper education could help sway them to use these products.

The HSE is serious about enforcing the noise regulations, which is only exacerbated by the fact that he entertainment industry was given extra time to meet its criteria. As evidenced by the meeting, there are easy and obvious measures that employers can enforce to protect their staff and the musicians entertaining at their venues. It also proved that education and combating false opinions are essential to ensuring that those in the work place are properly protected.