Musician case of acoustic shock – not music to our ears?

A recent case where a musician suffered acoustic shock has sent shock waves through the music industry – might it affect other industries as well?

Corries solicitors are a leading firm of work-related illness solicitors.  We have unrivalled experience in dealing with a variety of claims for compensation people have been injured as result of their work.

The musician case

Judgement has been handed down in what is seen as a landmark noise exposure case of Goldscheider v The Royal Opera House 2018.  The judgment has, for the first time, recognised a medical condition called acoustic shock as a claim for compensation. The decision means that exposure to excessive noise whilst rehearsing and playing music may lead to more claims for compensation.

The case facts

The Claimant, Mr Goldscheider is 45 the time of this judgment. He played violin from the age of five and viola from the age of 21.  Following studies in Hungary and from there became a member of the Royal Opera house in 2002.  He was promoted to number six viola and remained with the defendants until July 2014.

Mr Goldscheider was involved in 2012 rehearsals for a production of one of the Ring Operas of Wagner called Die Walkure. It famously includes “The Ride of the Valkyries” as part of the opera.

The Ring operas require a huge orchestra.  These include brass and large French horn section together with two sets of tympanic.  The orchestra pit is more tightly compacted than usual to fit everyone in.

A decision was made to sit the horns and brass elements together and the principal trumpet’s bell was only 3 feet away from Mr Goldscheider. He tried wearing custom-made earplugs provided by the defendants. These reduced his noise exposure by 9 dB.  These were not good enough so he got better ones which reduced it by 28 dB which he used when he felt he needed them.  They were not enforced.

The affect

The Claimant described that the noise from the wall of sound generated by the horns and brass sections as overwhelming, excruciatingly loud and painful. He started to become unwell and dizzy and when seen by his GP he diagnosed acoustic shock and he was signed off work.

It was established from further investigations that he had high-frequency hearing loss. He was also found to have suffered acoustic shock due to the exposure to sudden, unexpected and high-pressure noise. Furthermore this left him with damaged hearing, tinnitus and he cannot tolerate loud noise or music. The case was reported on by the BBC and the article is here

acoustic shock

acoustic shock from loud productions is now a recognised condition

The law

The Claimant relied upon Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 which are designed to limit noise exposure and put hearing protection in place.

Cases of noise exposure involve complex calculations of the levels of exposure which can change during any working shift in a factory or other workplace.  Where the noise is found to be in excess of limits then measures have to be put in place to reduce the noise or to provide proper personal protective equipment.  In addition health surveillance must be carried out and information and training must be provided.

The defendants denied the case and said that they done all that they could. The noise in the orchestra pit could reach 135 db – or the sound of a jet engine. They also denied the condition was caused by one single episode of noise.

Practical considerations

The case was disputed because in essence the noise was not a by product of an industrial process but was the intended product. Orchestras and opera companies are by their nature noisy.  The defendants had to put into place some measures to reduce the risks.

The outcome

Notwithstanding the various measures carried out by the defendant the judge considered that the defendants had not done enough to protect its employees from hearing damage.

It did not carry out adequate risk assessment and it did not take enough measures to reduce exposure to noise.  Whilst the judge appreciated that there was a desire to preserve artistic status they could not compromise the standard of care which it had as an employer to protect all employees.

The judge found that noise levels in rehearsals was enough to cause acoustic shock and the permanent symptoms which Mr Goldscheider suffers.

The judgment can be read here. It is rather long but sets out the law and how the decision was reached.

What might this mean for other noise victims?

The judgement is a sharp reminder to the professional musical and entertainment industry. Any production where excessive sound is made must be reviewed. Practical measures such as screens or shields to absorb noise can be done. Earplugs for hearing protection should be provided and enforced.

Clearly this will be difficult and how it will be enforced by employers will be hard. But not impossible. Enforcement of good practice must be the key.

Case comment

Corries Director and Work Disease specialist Howard Bonnett commented

“This is an unusual and interesting case.  We have every sympathy for Mr Goldscheider who is prevented from continuing a job that he evidently loved. To see acoustic shock recognised as a condition, denied by the insurance industry, is appreciated.

It is obvious that this judgement will have an impact on live and recorded musical production. The judgment shows employers must do much more to enforce good practice. They cannot allow people to simply rely on their own judgment on noise exposure. I can see this judgment may well affect other industries where noise is made for short periods and where damage can be caused.

It is noted that the case may be appealed.  I hope that any higher court supports what is a well-reasoned judgment. Just because policing the affects of the judgment may be hard does not mean that it should not be done”

Do you know someone who has been affected by their work?  If they have been diagnosed in the last three years then get them to contact our specialist team now on 0800 083 7839.