Landmark workplace hearing loss win for Opera House musician
In a decision that has sent shockwaves through the music industry, a judge has found that a viola player suffered ‘acoustic shock’ when rehearsing Wagner’s Die Walkure in 2012, and that the Royal Opera House is responsible for a £750,000 compensation claim.
The ruling, the first of its kind for the injury known as acoustic shock has implications for the health and safety of musicians and the responsibility of their employers to protect them. It has also caused controversy with some, including the Royal Opera House, claiming that acoustic shock does not exist.
Acoustic shock is an involuntary response to a sound perceived as traumatic, which causes aural pain, tinnitus, hyperacusis, muffled hearing, vertigo and other symptoms such as numbness or burning sensations around the ear.
Christopher Goldscheider, a viola player, claimed he was exposed to acoustic shock when the 18-strong brass section played a loud blast when he was sitting directly in front of them. The noise levels exceeded 130 decibels, roughly equivalent to that of a jet engine and Mr Goldscheider’s hearing was permanently damaged.
Mr Goldscheider claimed his life was completely transformed, with normal sounds causing him great discomfort. He can no longer play or listen to music, a huge loss to him professionally and personally, especially as his son is a bright light in music and a highly talented French horn player.
Crucially for the music industry, Mrs Justice Davies put the responsibility of the health and safety of musicians lay squarely with management. He said that “the reliance upon artistic value implies that statutory health and safety requirements must cede to the needs and wishes of the artistic output of the Opera company, its managers and conductors. Such a stance is unacceptable. Musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker.”
Help Musicians UK, the leading UK charity for professional musicians, emphasised the danger of working as a musician:
“The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Chris’s tragic hearing loss reflect a growing number of hearing related issues, as highlighted in our 2015 hearing survey, where 59.5% of musicians said they had suffered hearing loss and 78% said working as a musician was a contributor to their hearing loss.”
Do you have hearing problems which could have been caused or exacerbated by your workplace? Contact 0800 001 4496.