A Court of Appeal ruling that has seen the Royal Opera House lose its challenge over a case of a viola player whose hearing was irreparably damaged whilst playing in its pit orchestra, could well have far reaching consequences for all future stage performances — including brass band contests.
Although the full details of the decision of the Court of Appeal judges has yet to be published in the case of Christopher Goldscheider, who suffered 'acoustic shock' after sitting in front of the brass section of the Royal Opera House orchestra in a rehearsal of Wagner's 'Die Walkure', it is being described as a 'landmark ruling'.
The Opera House was supported in its challenge by the Association of British Orchestras, the Society of London Theatre and the UK Theatre Association, who argued that it could have 'disturbing implications' for all live music performances.
It stated that "all music making in the UK" may be curtailed in some way by the ruling.
Foreseeable and preventable
However, Sir Brian Leveson, who sat alongside Lord Justice Bean and Justice McCombe stated that for his part; "…I simply do not accept that this cataclysmic scenario represents a proper understanding of the consequences of the decision."
They ruled that Mr Goldscheider's injures were "… all foreseeable and reasonably preventable".
It was stated in the previous High Court judgment that the noise level experienced by him at the time exceeded 130 decibels, roughly the equivalent of a jet engine.
Blew away myth
Whilst the judges backed the Opera House in its contention that the provision of ear defenders by players at all times in rehearsals and performances was not practicable, the BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman stated that the ruling, "...blew away the myth that orchestra spaces and live music venues are exempt from noise protection".
That was one that believed that a defence was available to employers under the Compensation Act as the product of making music was of such high artistic value, some noise damage to those producing it was acceptable.
He added: "The case effectively brings an orchestra space — or any live music venue for that matter — into line with other working environments such as a factory floor.
An orchestra space or gig venue becomes, if you like, a factory where noise is the end product rather than the by-product of an industrial process."
4BR understands that this could see concert promoters, organsiers and employers having to offer acoustic music stand shields to performers or single-use hearing protection ear plugs if requested4BR
It was his understanding that, "Employers and organisers will now have to put processes in place to assess noise and anticipate sudden rises in noise levels. They will then have to take all reasonably practical steps to prevent injury resulting from the noise."
4BR understands that this could see concert promoters, organsiers and employers having to offer acoustic music stand shields to performers or single-use hearing protection ear plugs if requested.
Many professional orchestras and ensembles do offer this at present for rehearsals and performances.
A Health and Safety Executive report prepared in 2008 that looked specifically at hearing protection for musicians recommended that, "...Training on the selection and proper use of hearing protection is essential to ensure that the use of hearing protection is an effective method for controlling musicians' noise exposure."
It was stated that nearly 60% of musicians report some sport of hearing loss during their careers. Mr Goldscheider has been unable to work since 2014.