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Risk Assessing volume level


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How might you go about risk assessing volume level for a band performance?


What's the risk? Hearing damage.

Who's at risk? Band, audience, crew.

Action? Ear defenders, volume control.


How would you then determine the appropriate level to set your amps at? dB meter? Your own threshold of pain :angry:


Unlike falling off a ladder hearing damage sneaks up on you over time* and is dependent on length of exposure and the source of the sound: Would you sit through three hours of pneumatic drilling even if it was [Debbie Harry]** holding the drill?


*the damage ensuing from swift descent sneaks up on you according to the formula:


t = SQRT (2s/g) [seconds]


where s is the distance descended in metres from a standing start, and g=9.8m/s/s. Air resistance is presumed negligible for technicians of average cross-sectional area and descents likely to be encountered in the normal course of business.


**amend as appropriate



Joking aside, anyone got any thoughts on the subject?

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You may also wish to consult the Control of Noise at Work regulations - although they don't come into force for the entertainment industry for another year (available here: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051643.htm#5 )


The control of noise regulations contain the action levels the HSE site discusses, as well as various other provisions you will have to make in the future (and should be doing so now anyway).

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The orchestra volume issue, in the papers today again, just makes the entire thing look ridiculous
You mean the "The orchestra's hearing is in danger from the loud noises they are making so let's tell them they have to wear ear plugs to protect them" saga...?

Yeah - saw that, laughed at it, common sense tells me it'll never happen... Even in THIS daft society.

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How might you go about risk assessing volume level for a band performance?


Noise at Work and Control of Noise at Work are regulations where a site survey should be carried out to determine not only the exposure level, but also the work pattern. From this personal dose for all workers can be determined.

It helps to have a meter that does Leq, but a simple tandy one is enough to give a rough ball park figure. Establish what the level is, how long you are exposed to it, and see where that comes on the new scale. Bear in mind there is an exposure limit value of 87dB(A) 8 hour Leq.


The results should be recorded and will form the basis of your risk assessment and your action under the NaW / CoNaW regs.


Section 6 of CoNaW states:

Elimination or control of exposure to noise at the workplace

6. —(1) The employer shall ensure that risk from the exposure of his employees to noise is either eliminated at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.


Section 7:


7. —(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of regulation 6, an employer who carries out work which is likely to expose any employees to noise at or above a lower exposure action value shall make personal hearing protectors available upon request to any employee who is so exposed.



So you are required to a) minimise exposure by reducing noise at source, b) reduce by reducing exposure time etc. then c) use hearing protection.



For the rest of the story, read the regs, use the HSE site, or chat to your friendly environmental acoustician. Mr Si does this sort of stuff for a living.


Silent orchestra jokes aside, we just need one zealous council to prosecute under CoNaW from next April, and the fun and games will start.



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Just an aside - as Her Majesties Revenue and Customs has determined that freelancers are not employees, and the venue operator not necessarily the employer, how does this impact on the self-employed, which would appear to be the status of most touring musicians. Obviously some musicians are contracted employees, but of a third body - so this complicates things further. A self-employed technican or rigger is responsibile for their own safety equipment - so hearing protection falls into this too. This seems to mean that a venue, for example, will have to attempt to enure that people who are not their employees, and over whom they have little real control, do what they need. House rules rarely get enforced on musicians - because they usually say "NO". This will be a really interesting battle to watch, and for once, it isn't the backstage people in the firing line. People with the most powerful union behind them - should be a fun time, I suspect!
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Four boys asked me to set up mics for them to rehearse their band for a performance in the Year 11 Leavers Assembly the following morning. Three guitars and a drummer. Bass guitarist with a large amp (500w minimum, at a guess), two smaller amps for the leads, and two of them singing. I provided 500w for the mics. This in a school hall 50ft x 60ft x 18ft with all surfaces bare.


Their rehearsal was ear-splitting from the drums and the bass. 50ft from the stage you had to put your lips to the ears of any one you wanted to speak to and shout to be heard and you couldn't hear the singers although they had full volume. I fetched ear-defenders and even with them on it was over an hour after we'd finished before my ears returned to normal, which I didn't like, hence the topic.


In the morning the drummer was caught smoking and sent home- show cancelled. Four gutted boys, especially as they needed a video of a public performance for their coursework (BTech I think), and that was the last day of school for them barring exams.


I think the performance would have been just the one number, so less exposure than the rehearsal, but there would have been 200 pupils and 40 staff present and the front row would have been 10-15 feet from the source of the sound, a quarter of the distance I had been.


One thing has emerged from considering what happened. In future all instruments are coming through the mixer even if they go back to on-stage amps so I can trim the volume, or kill the show if necessary. At the rehearsal the feeds went straight from guitars to on-stage amps controlled by the performers so there was no executive control, not good in an emergency.

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Nice idea, but from a performers perspective - unacceptable. In your own case, with musicians of that calibre, then no doubt a sensible idea. If I went to play somewhere, however, there is no way I'd allow my volume to be controlled by somebody who could have inknown, and possible awful musical sensitivity.


If the school have wrecked peoples grades, then they need a serious word. In fact, leaving it till this late in the year is stupidity itself - thes ekind of things always happen, and 4 peoples qualifications rely on the school getting this kind of thing right! (The good news if it is Btec, is that registrations don't finish - so you they could always do it later - unless UCAS is involved, but the deadline for that has gone anyway)

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An issue close to heart. A close member of my family (public forum, so I'll spare the detail) has spent all of their life playing in high level brass bands (Black Dyke and Hammonds Sauceworks to name a few) as a tuba player. Now tuba's always end up right infront of percussionists, who we all know are sadists and in brass bands tend to have rather large painful loking implements to hit. 30 years on this family member now has constant tinitus and has been told to stop playing. After 30 years of high level banding, that isn't going to happen but it does raise a point about the orchestra note. It is a real problem which is having an impact on professional and amateur players. In out industry we sit through a fairly loud soundcheck, rehearsal and performance and if it's particularly loud, our ears may ring the next day. Performers in un-amplified loud groups such as brass bands and orchestra's have to put up with this at every practice. No wonder it causes problems.


I might add that for us hearing protection is available and I always use it. None of us need telling that our ears are the tools of our trade. As for my audiences, you'd be surprised in a pub how many people will sit infront of the speaker stacks without even flinching. It makes me cringe sometimes how close they're willing to get. People tend to find the place in the pub where they're happy, but as the engineer my rule of thumb is "am I comfortable?" and " can I hear everything?". If you follow these rules and you place yourself in the main public listening area, surely it's the same for most of your audience. Once I'm happy with these levels hearing protection is worn due to exposure, not due to excessive volume particularly. If you're at it every day for a week it has to have a different effect to those who sit and listen for a night.

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... now has constant tinitus and has been told to stop playing.


...I might add that for us hearing protection is available and ...


This is indeed a personal and a professional tragedy. Hearing protection is available to musicians, the problem is learning how to play with an invisible, custom-fitted earplug in place (thats a music education issue), and having the will power to start using it (in youth) before damage occurs. (Also an education issue. I can imagine conservatory teachers who sneer at anything except a big classical orchestra job, and therefore ignore this issue for their students.) Before saying that musicians cannot wear protection, consider how careful serious sound board mixers are: They never get on the underground without earplugs, they avoid any exposure they can, and save their professional tool (their ears) for the job they get paid for.

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Indeed a tragedy, luckily he now has some very posh digital hearing aids which are rather apt at cancelling the tinitus. He still teaches and plays.




I suppose a lot of it at the time was down to lack of knowledge and the fact that most of the band was made up of yorkshire-born pit workers whose reply to most health problems was "be reet" (be right for those of you not from around these parts).




I know I took hearing protection to Leedsfest, and boy did I need it! Very loud! I don't doubt it adds to the atmosphere and can see exactly why the general public love to feel the bass going through them, but as professionals or amateurs, we really do have a little more to think about. The nasty thing aswell is there are very few generations before us who we can take evidenc from. Mill workers are known to have hearing problems, as did many other professionals, but in the days before claims and law suits, a lot of this went un-noticed. It's only been since the sixties we've been going to gigs and probably slightly later that gigs got so loud. I have a feeling the evidence will come up and hit us in the face in a few years time.




Hearing protection is provided at my place of work (an airport) and we have chance to sample quite a few types. I personally prefer the in-ear foam ones with a kneckband. Unobtrusive, comfy and knock a few dB's off. Mainly off the top end (which is great for jet engines!).


I have looked at the more expensive electronic versions with the flat response, though my theory is that if I protect my ears at all other times, I can trade this off against working un-protected when I need at gigs. None of my gigs are ever too loud because it's just not the way I work a band.

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