Musician wins landmark ruling in UK court over ruined hearing

Edited: March 28, 2018, 10:04 AM · Of interest to orchestral musicians, and others, this decision was handed down today in the U.K. High Court:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43571144

Replies (13)

March 28, 2018, 12:28 PM · Why this isn't front page news on this site is beyond me. American musicians, specifically on Broadway have been complaining (and suffering) about this for decades, ever since the development of the rock-pop musical in the 60's and 70's. Something needs to be done, and this is a great first step. After all, just because someone is a professional artist or athlete mean that they have to sacrifice their health and well being for their art, or sport. They have as much right to basic levels of health as the rest of us.
Edited: March 28, 2018, 3:19 PM · Actually, I think this decision is bad news for orchestras and professional musicians. (And even amateurs who play in community orchestras.) The plaintiff in this case used ear plugs, and efforts had been made to mitigate volume. There was evidence that there were other possible causes of his hearing loss, but the judge did not accept that evidence. The end result will be increased pressure on insurance rates, and quite possibly a growing reluctance to offer liability coverage to orchestras at any price. The likeliest consequences of this decision are fewer orchestras and fewer jobs.
March 28, 2018, 8:39 PM · I'm pretty confused on why people don't just use musician's earplugs if volume is an issue. When I was in orchestra I had to use a full earplug in my left ear because I was RIGHT in front of the brass, but I didn't know about musician's earplugs back then. The problem with wax earplugs is they blocked too much sound and threw everything off.

How the plaintiff had hearing damage despite wearing earplugs is beyond me.

March 28, 2018, 9:22 PM · I agree 100% with David Waterman.
March 29, 2018, 1:15 AM · Orchestral managers must (should) have been lying awake last night.
Edited: March 29, 2018, 4:32 AM · According to the report, the plaintiff was exposed to sound levels of about 130dB. This is comparable to that of a military jet taking off. Persons in the vicinity of such an aircraft will wear specialized protective ear coverings to protect them from the physically dangerous sound levels, and I seriously doubt whether musicians' ear plugs would give any significant protection. Btw, I worked in the aero jet engine industry for several years.

The plaintiff was employed by the ROH Orchestra, joining them as violist no. 11, later being promoted to no. 6. These numbers imply a viola section of at least 6 desks, and other sections pro rata - so a sizeable orchestra within the confines of an opera house orchestra pit.

Another issue today, compared with yesteryear, is the enlarged bore of brass instruments in the quest for a bigger sound. Incidentally, one of the first things a trainee conductor learns is, "never encourage the brass" ;)

Edited: March 29, 2018, 4:30 AM · It is an interesting and very valid idea to rethink of an orchestra as a safe environment for its workers...not just as the outcome of the optimum organisation of its constituent elements in the production of sound.

Courts shouldn't be de facto completely trust-worthy...but this was still a court's judgement, not a whimsical decree. And if typically unfairness happens, i expect it typically happens the other way around: richer organisations win, poorer vulberable individuals lose.

This is a person who, so far, has lost the ability to make a living from what he waas trained to do throughout his life.

If people had accepted at face values that factories or work sites were normally and acceptably dangerous environments that didn't deserve revision on the basis of health and safety, there would still be a much larger number of people whose lives have been damaged or lost.

The question should be about how to improve working conditions (always and not just after accidents). Can people have their Wagner without injuring the workers serving up Wagner?

March 29, 2018, 6:58 AM · What's notable here is that it wasn't just that he was wearing musician's earplugs. It's also that there were sound baffles already installed in the pit, and the opera also claimed that musicians were seated with both audience and noise levels in mind.

I'm wondering, by the way, why this violist didn't think he'd ruptured his eardrum. When I was in pain for weeks after an incident in a pit, I figured that was what had happened.

Edited: March 29, 2018, 12:15 PM · I am with Tammuz. In addition, when such dispute takes place, I'm always ask who the little guys are in need of help and with whom I stand. Musicians, young and old, are not always in the best situation to protect their own health and wellbeing due to the rigorous ways of training, expectations, competitive nature of the business, let alone all the stress they are under... I don't think it's reasonable to expect that their self-care will be sufficient without external/societal support. Of all the professionals I know and have worked with, orchestra musicians seem to take on a lot more physical and emotional stress than many. It's not uncommon to see chronical injuries sufferred by players as young as in their early 40s. It's heartbraking to see these professional musicians popping painkiller on a daily basis just to keep up with their work.
April 26, 2018, 8:59 AM · There is a long and dismal history across the world of powerful employers not caring sufficiently about their employees safety. In the UK, since the start of the industrial revolution, many thousand of workers have died or had their health ruined as a result. Orchestras should be no different to a mine or a factory in terms of the safety of their employees.
As others have mentioned, this guy was exposed to about 130dB (this was an actual measurement so the position of seating and sound baffles are irrelevant), which is equivalent to the noise of a jet engine nearby. People who work near jets wear fully enclosed ear defenders, not musicians earplugs, which would be considered totally inadequate. Hence the hearing damage is not at all surprising. I followed the court case while it was going on and there was lots of expert witness evidence, so it was a fully considered verdict and not some whim.
April 26, 2018, 12:25 PM · Interesting, it will be interesting to see how they attempt to make this safer. At the end of the day, some things just have inherent risk associated with them. Some sports/occupations are just more hazardous than others.

It is more concerning to me that this place apparently had some safety features in place. Here is a question for those who are orchestral musicians: how would you fix something like this? Would fully enclosed ear coverings work?

April 26, 2018, 2:16 PM · Here in France, new rules try to limit sound levels in concerts and clubs to a "safe" level.
This has brought an outcry from organisers, and even the composer Jean-Michel Jarre.
One rock musician actually said in a TV discussion "I you lower the volume of my music, there'll be nothing left"..
Interesting.
April 26, 2018, 2:43 PM · "One rock musician actually said in a TV discussion "I you lower the volume of my music, there'll be nothing left".. "

He's not wrong depending on the rock genre.

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