Noise – A note worthy appeal

May 17, 2019
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While many of the articles you will find here look at health and safety regulations from the point of view of enforcement by the authorities, failures in complying with regulations are often cited in claims for compensation when someone has been injured at work.

Previously we have reported on a compensation claim by a musician against the Royal Opera House for damage to hearing resulting from a particularly noisy rehearsal session in 2012. That is damage to hearing caused by a single exposure to load noise rather damage caused by repeated exposure over time.

In March 2018 after an eight day High Court trial the Royal Opera House was found liable for the injury. The Royal Opera House appealed the decision and that appeal has now been heard.

A number of issues were raised in this case including whether it was reasonably practical to enforce the blanket wearing of hearing protection at all times by all players during a rehearsal or performance. Whether the Royal Opera House had done all they could to reduce the risk from exposure to noise to as low a level as reasonably practicable and whether any breach had caused the injury.

Ultimately the appeal was dismissed with the Court finding in favour of the claimant. Specifically the Appeal Court did find that the Royal Opera house was in breach of the duties to reduce the risk from exposure to noise to as low a level as reasonably practicable. Also while recognizing that the concept of acoustic shock was relatively new and medical knowledge is developing the Appeal Court found no reason to overturn the lower Court’s decision on causation.

Where the Appeal Court did disagree with the earlier hearing was on the wearing of hearing protection. The Court of Appeal accepted that it was not reasonably practicable for players in the Royal Opera House’s orchestra pit to perform if they were to be required to wear hearing protection at all times.

Whether you are part of the entertainment industry or another type of workplace as well as long term exposure it is also important to consider whether instantaneous exposure to noise could result in a foreseeable risk of injury.

For musical performances and rehearsals ensuring that different sections are widely spaced, including using risers to allow vertical separation, can be particularly helpful in managing noise levels for performers. In this case the physical features of the Royal Opera House and space constraints may have added to difficulties with controlling exposure to noise when compared to other orchestras.

Specific guidance for controlling exposure to noise in the music and entertainment sectors can be found on the HSE’s website at:

Please speak to your normal PIB Risk management contact or get in touch using [email protected]  if you have any questions about noise at work or would like to arrange a noise assessment for your workplace.