Hearing Issues

Noise exposures in the classroom

The size of the teaching room is important as it is likely that working in a small room will result in exposure to higher sound levels than when teaching in a larger auditorium. It is therefore advisable to raise awareness amongst students regarding the dangers of over-exposure to excessive sound levels and the need to wear hearing protection.

Loud sounds, whatever their source, can damage hearing. Hearing damage is permanent, irreversible and causes deafness. The Sound Advice Guidance Document (soundadvice.info) is a practical guide that details how to protect the hearing of teachers and students during music lessons.

The MU also recommends members to keep a record of daily/weekly noise exposure. A noise calculator can be downloaded from the website of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE): www.hse.gov.uk/noise/calculator.htm

The following information sets out practical advice for music professionals on how to protect hearing and the legal status with regard to claims for deafness.

Your hearing — advice for musicians

The Control Of Noise At Work Regulations 2005 (CNWR) and a specially-written guidance document entitled Sound Advice came into force across the music and entertainment sectors in April 2008. Local Authority enforcement officers will now ensure that all premises comply with the CNWR and have powers to serve a Health & Safety Improvement Notice if employers/ premises are found to be in breach of the regulations.

Enforcement officers may prosecute if they determine that the situation is serious enough. The new regulations feature a set of Decibel (dB) Action Values which require employers and premises to take steps to protect the hearing of workers, including the provision of suitable protection equipment, maintenance of same and training as to its proper use. Noise is measured in decibels (dB). An ‘A weighting’, which is sometimes written as ‘dB(A)’,  is used to measure average noise levels. A ‘C weighting’, or ‘dB(C)’, is used to measure peak, impact or explosive noises.

The CNWR includes a set of ‘action values’ which dictate the level of protection that must be supplied or used at different dB exposure levels:

  • First Action Values require that  suitable hearing protection must be made available for workers when there’s a daily or weekly exposure above 80dB(A) or a peak sound pressure of 135dB(C)
  • Second Action Values require that  suitable hearing protection must be used when the daily or weekly exposure exceeds 85dB(A) or a peak sound pressure of 137dB(C)
  • Exposure Limit Values, which must not be exceeded, are a daily or weekly level of 87dB(A) or a peak sound pressure of 140dB(C). These limit values take account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection

Please note that the typical dB(A) levels reached by a rock band can be up to 125dB(A) and, for a symphony orchestra, 94dB(A).

For further information, please see Note 9 of the Sound Advice guidance document which is available online at www.soundadvice.info.

If a noise hazard exists in the workplace, the CNWR requires the employer to carry out a noise assessment which involves measuring noise levels with specialist equipment, assessing the exposure and developing an action plan and ongoing monitoring. For further information, refer to Note 5 of the Sound Advice guidance document, available from www.soundadvice.info.

Causes of deafness

Hearing loss can be caused by many things including the natural ageing process, hereditary causes, health problems, head injuries and ear infections. Some drugs for illnesses can have the side effect of causing deafness. Noise-induced hearing loss has distinguishing characteristic features which are detectable on an audiogram after a hearing test. There is a range of hearing which is described by doctors as ‘within normal limits’. The fact that you may have worked in noise does not necessarily mean that you have any hearing problems or that those problems have been caused by work.

Excessive noise

If you have worked in loud noise, you may not have worked in excessive noise so as to break the rules laid down by law. In order to break the rules laid down by law, you would have to prove that your noise exposure exceeded 90dB when averaged over eight hours. Some people can still suffer hearing damage even when their exposure is within the legal limits. As a rough guide, if people next to you have to shout for you to understand them, then there may be a hazard.

Date of guilty knowledge

This legal term describes the date by which an employer must have realised that noise could cause damage to the hearing of its staff. It is only from this date that the courts will say that an employer is guilty. The courts have decided that the date of guilty knowledge for most major employers is 1963, although some may have earlier or later dates.

Any damage done to your hearing by employment prior to the guilty knowledge date cannot receive compensation and in any successful case a reduction may have to be made to allow for this earlier exposure.

(Musicians’ Union members who wish to pursue a deafness claim should contact their regional office.)

This section was reproduced with the kind permission of Thompsons Solicitors.

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