Back in the summer of ’69, Bryan Adams played guitar until his fingers bled. By the summer of ’70, Bryan’s fingers had healed into healthy callouses, but his ears would never recover. Beethoven’s hearing problems which led to deafness may have been caused by lead poisoning, typhus, or his habit of submerging his head in cold water to stay awake. Unfortunately for modern musicians, their hearing is being taken by the very thing they live to create.
A recent study from the Noise & Health Journal has shown that professional musicians exposed to loud, amplified music, do suffer from symptoms of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Tinnitus, which is broadly defined by the NHS as a sound perceived from inside the body, is also experienced by a large proportion of music industry workers.
It is a fact that Health and Safety is the second least rock and roll concept in the world The idea of Jimi Hendrix playing Woodstock wearing ear defenders, or of Spinal Tap turning it down from 11, is morally abhorrent to a lover of music. However, our understanding of our bodies, and our cultural shift towards health-consciousness is leading many musicians to take responsibility for the protection of their hearing.
It is now common to see little orange buds nestled in the ears of session drummers and sound technicians. Musicians have cottoned on, excuse the pun, to the fact that their ears are as important as hands, feet, or vocal chords. But the responsibility for protecting the hearing of music industry workers extends beyond the individual to their employers.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (CNWR) became effective within the Music and Entertainment Sectors in April 2008, with a clear emphasis on the requirement for employers to provide hearing health surveillance for employees. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide training on the correct use of hearing protection and to ensure any hearing protection provided is used and maintained properly.
If noise levels exceed 80dB then the employer is legally bound to take action. Given the fact that concerts can reach levels of 120dB, there is no doubt that those who work in such environments are being exposed to levels of noise which oblige their employers to take steps to prevent damage. Investigations by the Health and Safety executive show that Musicians, DJs, Lighting technicians, Security Staff, Bar staff and waiters are all routinely exposed to noise levels of between 84dB and 104dB, which can damage hearing and can cause long term problems or even permanent hearing loss.
Tom Evans, Solicitor at NewLaw commented, “Compensation claims for NIHL typically involve heavy industry workers, but the evidence suggests that noise levels experienced by musicians are just as damaging. It is possible that the relative rarity of claims from musicians stems from the fact that their employment is more fluid and it is unlikely that one particular employer has caused the symptoms. However, this should not necessarily defeat a claim.
‘It is possible to seek damages from multiple defendants if it can be shown that their negligence, in failing to adhere to the regulations, have caused the symptoms.”
As well as the general ignorance regarding the connection between their symptoms and their employment, many workers are also unaware of how hearing problem or deafness claims are pursued. They may be hesitant to pursue a claim for compensation against an otherwise good employer, unaware of the fact that claims are dealt with by insurance companies on their employer’s behalf. They may also be concerned about expensive legal fees and court battles, unaware that such claims are dealt with on a no-win-no-fee basis and that less than 0.1% of cases will ever reach a court.
Musicians often turn down lucrative record deals for fear of ‘selling out.’ It therefore seems unlikely that a group of such ethical fortitude would seek compensation from former employers. However, this is an error of logic.
Tom Evans, experienced solicitor in noise induced hearing loss problems continued, “Claims should not be seen as an endorsement of blame culture or mercenary motives, it should be a tool used by the masses to enforce their rights against employers who have failed to protect their workers. The rock and roll code of ethics states that we must stick it to the man. If the man profits from performances while failing to protect the performer, then he should be stuck with the responsibility of compensating for the damage he did.
‘To end on a high note, here are two ways in which NIHL has in fact benefitted humanity: Firstly, Neil Young produced his masterpiece ‘Harvest’ in order for its soft sounds to help him with his tinnitus symptoms. Secondly, noise induced hearing loss was the reason Phil Collins retired from music in 2011. The lesson? Don’t be like Phil Collins.