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Landmark Hearing Case - Entertainment & Music Sector

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Landmark Hearing Case - Entertainment & Music Sector

10 May 2018

A viola player who suffered a life-changing hearing injury at a rehearsal of Wagner's Die Walkure in 2012 has won a landmark High Court judgment against the Royal Opera House (ROH). The case won by Chris Goldscheider has huge implications for the industry and the health and safety of musicians and others exposed to noise risk.

It is the first time a judge has scrutinised the music industry's legal obligations towards musicians' hearing and is also the first time 'acoustic shock' has been recognised as a condition which can be compensated by a court.

On 1 September 2012, Mr Goldscheider was seated directly in front of the brass section of the orchestra for a rehearsal of Wagner's thunderous opera Die Walkure in the famous orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House.  During that rehearsal, the noise levels reached 137 decibels, roughly equivalent to that of a jet engine. His hearing was irreversibly damaged.

The ROH also argued that a balance had to be struck 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. The judge 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, its managers and conductors. Musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker."

‘Acoustic shock’ relates to single exposure to a loud noise and is not the same as noise induced hearing loss caused by repeated exposure over time although both can cause permanent hearing loss and in the events industry those that work in music and some sports such as motor racing are vulnerable.  This case sets a new precedent and event companies should review their policies in this regard.

This was a civil case for compensation and not a prosecution. The law, the Noise at Work Regulations, however, sets standards which, if followed should prevent incidents such as this.  Sound Advice – Control of Noise at Work in Music and Entertainment HSG 260 issued by the HSE provides very detailed guidance.  All employers, where employees are exposed to potentially harmful levels of noise, should monitor their staff with regular hearing tests.  It should be remembered that whilst noise induced hearing loss is not a dramatic injury such as broken bone, it is none the less a life changing disability which will worsen over time with natural age related hearing loss.

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