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Acoustic Shockwaves

I am sitting at my desk early this morning whilst reading the news on the case brought by Mr Goldscheider against the Royal Opera House (ROH) for damages for acoustic shock, a condition with symptoms including tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness.

I have some headphones in, listening to music, to drown out the sound of the workmen outside the office.

Chris Goldscheider had performed with the ROH since 2002 but suffered permanent hearing damage in 2012 during a rehearsal of "Ride of the Valkyries,” part of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle in 2012 when he was seated directly in front of the brass section of the orchestra in the famous orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House.

In a landmark High Court judgment against the Royal Opera House (ROH), Mrs Justice Nicola Davies found in favour of the claim brought by Mr Goldscheider in that the ROH was in breach of it’s duty to Mr Goldscheider under The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the Noise Regulations) which came into force for all industry sectors in Great Britain on 6 April 2006 (although for the music and entertainment sectors the Regulations came into force on 6 April 2008).

The aim of the Noise Regulations is to ensure that workers' hearing is protected from excessive noise at their place of work, which could cause hearing damage. It should be noted that the level at which employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones is now 85 decibels (daily or weekly average exposure). During that rehearsal, the noise levels exceeded 130 decibels, roughly equivalent to that of a jet engine.

The ROH argued that acoustic shock does not exist, and that if it did, Mr Goldscheider did not have it. That argument was not accepted by Mrs Justice Nicola Davies in finding that 'acoustic shock' should be recognised as a condition which can be compensated by the court.

The court also had to consider the balance between preserving the artistic integrity of the music while doing everything possible to reduce the risk of damage to musicians' hearing, that was an inevitable feature of playing long-term in an orchestra. That decision went in favour of the musician who are entitled to the protection of the law, the same as any other worker.

Interestingly, a quick internet search this morning found an article posted by the HSE titled "Myth-buster - Noise in music and entertainment sectors” states the following;

Orchestras regularly play at 90-95 dB - so no more Wagner then?

The tighter noise exposure action values will not outlaw particular pieces from orchestras’ repertoires but the loudest pieces may be played less often. The aim is to protect musicians’ hearing so that they can continue in their profession and go on providing pleasure to the public. The Royal Opera House for example will still do the Ring Cycle, but schedule the performances to allow the musicians recovery time in what is anyway a physically demanding work. The draft practical guide offers other suggestions in relation to suitable venues, orchestra layouts and elevating the brass so that they can be heard without having to play through five rows of fellow musicians.

Although this judgment may yet be appealed, it does have potentially far-reaching implications for the wider music industry, which may now need to sit up and take more notice of the regulations and the duties imposed on employers in the industry.

Back to my headphones .. but with the volume a little lower than before.

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