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Tag ‘bagpipes’

Noise – Bagpipes told to pipe down!

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

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.


Friday, August 5th, 2005


Wealth and Safety
THE SUN today exposes the “Health and Safety” madness which is taking over Britain…Dogs have fallen foul of the PC brigade in Bradford, West Yorks, where city officials banned butchers from selling dog bones. Council bureaucrats warned butcher John Smith he faced losing his licence if he carried on selling them. The edict was based on a new EU regulation for food storage…

Zealous officials ripped out a playground swing in Great Somerford, Wilts, because it was positioned too high according to new EU regulations…

Recently it emerged that new EU laws were set to force trapeze artists and tightrope walkers to wear safety helmets while performing. Charles O’Brine, from Fossett’s Circus, said: “Can you imagine a flying trapeze artist with a hard hat on?” The measure was due to be introduced under regulations affecting people working at great heights…

In Scotland, bagpipes recently faced the axe under rules to slash noise pollution. The EU proposal was intended to ban noises louder than 87 decibels…Officials have also targeted window cleaners and builders, claiming an EU directive required ladders to be securely anchored to the ground for safety reasons. The proposal meant that labourers would be banned from climbing a ladder while a mate held it steady.
(The Sun, 2 August 2005)

The Sun’s initiative to, in its own words, “Make PC Lunacy History”, would stand a greater chance of succeeding if the examples it uses of “‘Health and Safety’ madness” were not complete nonsense.

Dog owners can still pick up a bone at the butchers. After the spread of mad cow disease, European health ministers took measures to prevent further outbreaks. Strict rules were introduced on the safe and traceable disposal of animal by-products (a major source of the disease’s outbreak), outlawing meat unsafe for human consumption from entering the food chain. Butchers can only sell products that are suitable for humans to eat – the rest must be classified as waste. The rules do not stop a butcher supplying bones to individual dog owners for their pet’s consumption, provided the bone had not already been thrown away, i.e. classified as waste.

The swings story is not even correct in a roundabout sort of way. There are simply no EU regulations governing the height of playground equipment. The origin of this myth may have come from European Standard 1176-5, drawn up by the European Committee for Standardisation. This is a non-EU body made up of standards institutions from 28 countries, including the British Standards Institution. It sets guidelines for products in order to improve consumer safety, but these guidelines are entirely voluntary.  

Also on the subject of height, the EU is not “set to force trapeze artists and tightrope walkers to wear safety helmets while performing”, nor will builders be barred from holding a ladder steady for a mate. Between 2003-2004, 67 people died in the UK as a result of a fall in the workplace. The new laws on working at height aim to protect workers by improving the safety equipment at their disposal, but it is up to national authorities – in the UK’s case the Health and Safety Executive – to devise the implementing measures. It would be up to the HSE to make trapeze artists don hard hats (though how that would protect them from a fall so high is anybody’s guess) and ban builders from holding ladders. So far, it has not felt inclined to take these steps.

As for banning bagpipes, Scots can rest assured that their favourite musical instrument is not under threat from EU proposals on noise pollution. While new measures will come into force next year, they are designed primarily for those who work with loud machinery for a sustained period – more than 87 decibels for eight hours in a row. The law, voted on by ministers and MEPs (including those from the UK), will from 2008 cover the entertainment industry, but will apply only to workers rather than audiences.

If, in the highly unlikely event a bagpipe player is hired to play continuously for eight hours, and the noise created averaged more than 87 decibels, the employer would be obliged to carry out a risk assessment to see where changes can be made – tinkering with the acoustics in a hall to reduce echoes, for example. If that fails, personal protection such as earmuffs will need to be considered, but only as a last resort. Banning musical instruments is not an option. Guarding against hearing loss and stress, which sustained exposure to loud noise has been proven to cause, is the only thing in the pipeline here.

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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