Pipe down! Brussels slaps a noise order on heart of Scotland (The Sunday Times, 20 April 2008, page 7)
Bagpipes are to be quietened by an edict from Brussels. From this month, pipers must adhere to strict volume limits or risk breaking European Union health and safety laws. Bands have been ordered to tone down or wear earplugs to limit noise exposure to 85 decibels.
This article on noise at work regulations and their potential effects on bagpipe playing, whilst entertaining, unfortunately rings false on several counts.
First, there is no question of the ‘new’ rules silencing bagpipe playing. The EU noise exposure limit of 87 decibels is averaged over a working week of eight hours per day.
There are plenty of practical ways to control or reduce musicians’ exposure to excessive noise in a cost-effective way without stopping them from playing. These include various types of hearing protection devices such as in-ear monitors, flat response earplugs specially designed for musicians (which are constantly being improved, thanks to technology), using absorbers, resonators and screens in rehearsal and performance areas and changing the layout of bands or order of play to reduce concentration of the loudest music.
Many orchestras, in Britain and abroad already make use of these options. They are developed together with organisations like the British Musicians’ Union and the International Federation of Musicians, and will help bagpipers and other musicians stay healthy while the show goes on.
Moreover, the Commission has very firm scientific evidence which shows that long-term exposure to excessive noise levels at work can cause irreversible damage to human hearing, from tinnitus to a complete loss of hearing. Around 22.5 million people across the EU already suffer from impaired hearing and a Danish study from 2006 found that 27% of musicians in orchestras suffer hearing loss. The consequences are not only the loss of a job, but also the danger of social exclusion – not forgetting the personal suffering for the individual.
Finally, the rules referred to are not new. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations were adopted in 2005. They were not made in Europe, but in the UK. The EU legislation which they are designed to implement was agreed by national ministers and the European Parliament back in 2003 and updated a previous law from 1986 – which also applied to the music sector.
But rules to protect workers from the auditory effects of excessive noise have been around a lot longer – the first regulations date back to the Industrial Revolution.