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This is the full text of the Sound Advice Working Group recommendations on personal hearing protection for people who work in the music industry. It may help you to choose and use appropriate hearing protection.
10.1 This advice deals with events where live amplified music is performed to an audience, referred to here as 'rock and pop'. However it covers a huge variety of music genres and instrument types, including set-ups that may normally be thought of as classical or orchestral. The prime consideration is the use of amplification and sound-reinforcement equipment in live performance.
10.2 The number of people in this sector who are already suffering from noise-induced problems such as hearing loss, tinnitus and other permanent medical complaints is proof that this is in a hazardous environment and personal hearing damage does occur.
10.3 This advice outlines practical approaches to noise control and noise exposure reduction that can be considered good practice. It does not consider in detail using personal hearing protection. However, it is highly likely that hearing protection will need to be used as well as the noise control measures outlined (see Sound Advice Note 5 Personal hearing protection).
10.4 There is a common misunderstanding in the rock and pop world that Regulations concerning noise levels solely refer to issues of noise pollution and neighbourhood disturbance caused by spill from concert and event venues. However, as explained in Sound advice note 2 Responsibilities, where people are at work (including the self-employed) then there is a legal obligation for employers, event organisers and the self-employed to control noise levels to protect the health and safety of workers - even if that noise is something deliberately generated and people are willing to expose themselves to potentially damaging levels of noise.
10.5 A noise risk assessment flowchart for planning a rock/pop event is shown at the end of this advice note.
10.6 The tables below give typical noise levels and noise exposures for a range of people working with amplified live music.
|Percussion||90 - 105||124-146|
|Amplified guitar (on stage using in-ear monitors)||100 - 106*||118|
|Amplified guitar (on stage with wedge monitors)||105 - 112*||124|
|Drummer at indoor music festival||105||144|
|Guitarist at indoor music festival||103||146|
|Bass guitarist at indoor music festival||101||133|
|Amplified rock music||102 - 108*||140 and above|
|* at 3 m|
|Indoor/stadium music festivals|
|Monitor engineer||96 - 104||147|
|FOH sound engineer||99 - 100||139/145|
|Promoter's representative||96 - 100||146|
|Stage manager||96 - 98||137|
|Security staff (depending on location)||89 - 94||137/146|
|Security - Pit||100||146|
|Events manager||85 - 87||137|
|Film crew||98 - 100||139/143|
|Bar staff||96 - 97||131/136|
|House managers||80 -- 91||131/137|
|Outdoor music festivals ('Pop concerts')|
|Merchandising||85 - 101||127/146|
|Security - Pit||91 - 101||136/144|
|Security staff (depending on location)||85 - 100||122/146|
|Ambulances||88 - 94||124/133|
|Delay tower engineer||93||125|
10.7 Virtually any live event using amplified instruments and sound reinforcement equipment will exceed the upper exposure action value. Therefore, some kind of control measures will almost certainly be required.
10.8 To determine what control measures are necessary, establish:
10.9 Carrying out such an assessment for specific locations, instruments, repertoire and venue layout will allow the employer/organiser to prioritise actions and target the areas and employees at highest risk. Where this involves measurement, see also the advice on measuring noise in Sound Advice Note 3 Noise risk assessment and planning.
10.10 Considering noise exposure should form a key part of the planning process, in particular sound system design, speaker location, equipment selection, the acoustic of the venue, the acts/groups, the number and positions of performers, the differences between the different instruments and so on. Planning is particularly important for concert tours and should involve both venue and acts. Taking account of noise issues at an early stage is likely to be both more effective and more economic than simply handing out earplugs to crew once the tour is underway, especially as the performers will probably also need hearing protection.
10.11 A 'pre-event noise risk assessment' may help plan the event. This might include:
10.12 The design and layout of venues can have a significant effect on noise levels and the noise exposure of individuals (see Sound Advice 8 Venues'). Size and staging, design and building materials, public address systems and the weather can all affect on the sound levels being produced in outdoor venues.
10.13 Venues should have already carried out noise risk assessments for their own staff, and visiting or touring productions should request these to assess where people may be at risk and where special attention needs to be given to noise control.
10.14 Any noise risk assessment should be updated if there are any changes (for example to the set design, venue, seating or line-up/set).
10.15 Where temporary concert stages are established, such as at outdoor festivals or concerts in marquees, assume risk-control measures will be needed. Generic risk-control measures should be put in place as a matter of course and they can then be adapted or modified during the event as necessary. The organisers should assume that the entire stage area, the pit area, the front-of-house control position and any locations adjacent to delay and in-fill speakers are hearing protection zones, even after the control measures have been put in place. See also Sound Advice Note 5 Personal hearing protection.
10.16 For outdoor events and festival sites, the organiser has to consider not only the exposure to people working backstage and on-stage, but should also bear in mind the way site layout may bring other workers, contractors and concessionaires into noisy areas. Taking account of such issues during the site planning stage is crucial, since it is extremely difficult to solve once structures, staff and equipment are in place. Also think about the management of the noise generated by the concessions themselves - many of whom bring their own PA systems and generators. For further information see The event safety guide.
10.17 Also remember that other periods of exposure from non-work activities increase the overall dosage, for example a loud show followed by listening to a personal stereo at reasonable volume. While outlawing personal headsets on the tour bus is clearly drastic, awareness of how and when people are exposed to noise hazard is a fundamental first step to reducing the risk of damage.
Staff at a major music festival were exposed to very high noise levels without adequate care for their safety. There were more than 50 000 people present and two major outdoor stages. The following problems were found:
The Table below gives the daily noise exposure for workers at the festival.
|Job||Location||Hearing protection||LEP,d dB|
|Paramedic||Side of main stage||Muffs||100|
|First-aider||Tent at side of main stage||Muffs when outside tent||97|
|Food service||Close by PA delays of main stage||None||100|
|Gate security||Side of main stage||None||101|
|Gate security||Wheel chair area for main stage||None||95|
|Door security||Secondary venue tent - 1||None||99|
|Stage security||Secondary venue tent - 1||Earplugs||108|
|Door security||Secondary venue tent - 2||None||103|
|Bass guitarist||On stage||None||101|
|FOH sound engineer||Tower approximately 30 m from stage||Earplugs||99|
|Monitor engineer||Side of stage, behind PA||None||96|
10.18 The first, simplest and most effective measure is to turn down the volume wherever practicable. Unfortunately this is often overlooked and flies in the face of the 'Rock and Roll' attitude. However, the simple step of keeping levels under control at every stage of the instrument/signal/amplification/reinforcement chain is fundamental.
10.19 Loud stage noise levels can compromise the quality of the performance and the sound that is delivered to the audience. It has been known for stage monitoring levels to be so loud that the front-of-house engineer in an arena has been unable to hear his own mix. This seriously compromises the possibility of creating a suitable mix for the audience. The use of in-ear monitoring can significantly improve the overall sound quality.
10.20 On-stage control measures include the following:
10.21 The need for musicians to hear their own performance and that of other performers is fundamental, but this can lead to an excessively loud and confusing stage environment if not planned and managed correctly. Monitor systems are often used as a means of overcoming high stage noise, but effort is better put into reducing those levels to achieve clarity rather than boosting other signals.
10.22 On a noisy stage it is very seldom the answer to turn something up to make it clearer. Always start by turning down the overall level and making adjustments in the balance; the human ear just doesn't work well at high noise levels. So, for example, someone asking to hear more vocal in a mix may well just need to hear less of everything else, especially if that noise is spill from other monitor mixes.
10.23 A well-balanced monitor system should allow all the players to hear what they need at a comfortable level while maintaining a reasonable work environment for everyone else on the stage. This needs time and planning, as well as a skilful monitor engineer who understands the needs of musicians. Consider the following:
10.24 Perhaps the most effective means of avoiding monitor spill is to use monitor headphones or in-ear monitors (IEMs). IEMs and monitor headphones allow a very quiet stage environment with benefits for all workers. IEMs have many benefits including clarity, controllability and comfort. It should be noted that generally IEMs and monitor headphones are not classified as personal hearing protection, and although they may provide some protection against external noise, their performance in this respect cannot be guaranteed. The use of limiters IEMs and monitor headphones is strongly recommended.
10.25 Good working practice for monitor headphone and IEM users includes:
10.26 Similar benefits may be obtained from using small personal monitor speakers that can be placed near a performer rather than relying on a traditional wedge or side-fill at a distance. These are particularly effective for relatively static performers such as keyboards and DJs.
10.27 High sound levels can be produced throughout a venue, and the noise risk assessment for an event should identify all the people who are at risk, not just the musicians or stage crew. See The event safety guide for guidance on audience protection. Consider the following:
10.28 On large pop concert stages and outdoor events it is common to find a fence line restraining the crowd a few metres in front of the stage itself. This is the 'pit barrier' and creates an area called the 'stage pit' in which stewards, security and welfare staff can help the crowd - and which commonly hosts photographers and media crew. The noise levels found in even small stage pits are so high that staff are liable to exposure well above either upper exposure action value - even if they are only present for a brief period (speaker and audience noise together can easily exceed 120 dB).
10.29 Stage pits should be hearing protection zones with access only granted to authorised personnel equipped with appropriate hearing protection.
10.30 Careful planning may mean some tasks can be completed when there is no noise hazard, for example ensuring that lighting focusing and sound checking are carried out at different times.
10.31 Sound checks are a vital part of the event set-up process, but they are also a mechanism by which technicians and players receive additional exposure to high noise, particularly if the sound check is not properly managed. Ideally instruments will be individually checked at a realistic volume and then an ensemble piece played at full concert level which can usually be set at a lower on-stage volume. A sound check at full concert levels should only be necessary for balancing sound levels, as distinct from rehearsals or last minute run-throughs of sets.
10.32 From a noise exposure perspective it is essential to limit both the duration and volume of sound checks. Similarly, limiting the number of non-essential personnel on stage and in the auditorium during a sound check will have time-management as well as noise exposure benefits. Every venue or event should have somewhere quiet for musicians and crew to take breaks or rest periods.
10.33 The sound check is a good opportunity to identify any unexpected or particularly troublesome noise elements. This could be achieved by monitoring sound levels at specific representative reference positions.
Example of an outdoor music event showing reference positions for noise measurement
10.34 Remember that the sound check is not solely for the purpose of musicians - it is often the only opportunity for front-of-house and monitor engineers to set their systems to achieve an optimum mix and safe playback levels.
10.35 Awareness of loud noise as dangerous means that crew should only be in the immediate vicinity of the stage during noisy periods if their job specifically requires it. The stage should not be used as a viewing platform or rest area for off-duty crew. It is a high-risk environment to which access must be strictly controlled.
10.36 The way in which work tasks are scheduled can have a significant impact on personal noise exposure over time. When planning the individual work, a load-in and show, or even an entire tour, consider when, where and to whom noise exposures will occur. Organise the work to ensure that personal noise doses are kept as low as reasonably practicable. This might be achieved by:
Custom-fit in-ear monitors
For a more detailed explanation of terms see Useful information and glossary.
Backline: Collection of musical instruments and their direct amplification on stage.
Exposure action values: Levels of exposure to noise at which certain actions are required (see Useful information and glossary).
Hearing Protection Zones: Areas where the wearing of hearing protection is compulsory (see Useful information and glossary).
In-ear monitors: Essentially earplugs with built-in miniature monitors (loudspeakers). It is essential that they are fitted with noise limiters.
Noise dose: See noise exposure.
Noise exposure: 'The noise dose', which can be calculated, takes account of both the actual volume of sound and how long it continues. Noise exposure is not the same as sound level, which is the level of noise measured at a particular moment.
Noise limiters: Sometimes known as volume regulatory device (VRD), controls noise exposure from amplified music. Modern noise limiters can be fitted with anti-tamper relays connected to external switches to improve system security.
PA: Public address system. Sometimes called a 'Tannoy'. Often used to refer to any loudspeaker transmitting messages rather than music.
Stage pit: In large pop concert stages and outdoor events, an area in front of the stage formed by the edge of the stage and a barrier a few metres away, which restrains the crowd.
Reference position: Standard location, usually static, selected to enable monitoring of noise levels to be conducted by measurements.
Shakers (or thumpers): An attachment that fits directly to the drum stool and transmits low frequency vibration - giving the player the right 'feel' without the need for high volume bass speakers, effectively a loudspeaker without a cone. (see Useful information and glossary).
Tinnitus: Buzzing, ringing or tone in the ear. Temporary tinnitus is a warning; a sign that 'you got away with it that time.
Upper exposure action value: See 'exposure action values'.
VRD: Volume regulatory device, (see noise limiter).