April 2, 2018

Landmark Ruling over Ruined Hearing for Musician Sounds Compensation Alarm for Employers

A landmark High Court judgment has given musicians protection under noise at work regulations for the first time, after a violinist brought action against the Royal Opera House when his hearing was irreversibly damaged during a rehearsal.

The case also marks the first time acoustic shock – a condition with symptoms including tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness – has been recognised as a condition which can be compensated by a court.

The case will have far reaching implications for employers of musicians and potentially those of other workers who may suffer acoustic shock as a consequence of their work.

Hearing damaged during rehearsal of Die Walkure

The claimant, Mr Goldscheider, was working for the Royal Opera House and in rehearsal for Die Walkure, Wagner’s famous opera.

Seated directly in front of the brass section, he was exposed to noise levels exceeding 130 decibels (on a par with that of a jet engine) when he suffered the injury.

After attempting rehabilitation for 18 months, Mr Goldscheider left the ROH as a result of his injuries.

Musicians entitled to same protections as any other worker

The Royal Opera House had argued that sound is not a by-product of an industrial process but is an essential part of the product itself, and a balance had to be struck between preserving the artistic integrity of the music while minimising the risk of damage to musicians’ hearing.

But Mrs Justice Davies disagreed, ruling that “the reliance upon artistic value implies that statutory health and safety requirements must cede to the needs and wishes of the artistic output of the Opera company … Such a stance is unacceptable. Musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker.”

What regulations govern the control of noise at work?

Noise at work is governed by the The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, introduced in April 2006 to replace the original regulations from 1989.

They are applicable to all places of work.

The legislation provides information for managing noise at work and sets clear limits when specific actions must be taken.

Employers must take action to control the risk of noise affecting their employees and limit exposure. The action levels aim to provide employees with the necessary protection to prevent noise induced hearing loss.

Levels Decibels (dB)Action
Lower Exposure Action Level80 dB(A)
  • Risk assessment
  • Implement a maintenance programme
  • Provide training
  • Make ear protection available
Upper Exposure Action Level85 dB(A)
  • Reduce noise at source
  • Implement ear protection zones
  • Ear protection must be used
  • Provide health surveillance

Employers must conduct a risk assessment to establish if their employees are being exposed to harmful levels of noise in the workplace, which should:

  • identify where there is a risk and who is affected
  • contain a reliable estimate of noise exposure and compare with first and second action levels
  • identify what is needed to comply with the regulations (this may include noise control and the provision of hearing protection)
  • be recorded along with the findings
  • be undertaken by a competent person

Employers’ health and safety policies should be specific about those with responsibilities for noise control measures and assessments. Any specific arrangements for managing noise must be stated in the policy, and the policy and procedures must be communicated to all employees.

Moorepay customers who are unsure whether their policies are up to date or compliant with noise regulations can find guidance on the HR Hub. Or you can discuss your particular situation by calling the Advice Line on 0845 073 0240.

Want a round-up of stories like this delivered to your inbox?

About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.