Is Work Making You Deaf?

Speaker: Control of Noise at Work Research

Research from business-to-business market research specialists B2B International shows low awareness of noise levels at work as deadline looms for entertainment industry regulations

When the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force in 2006 the music and entertainment sectors were granted a two-year transitional period until April 2008. As this deadline looms close, and with exposure levels necessitating voluntary or compulsory protection for employees, Aearo [1], a leading manufacturer of hearing protection, commissioned B2B International to research:

  • The needs and practices within the entertainment industry;
  • Their knowledge of the forthcoming regulations; and
  • How they are intending to respond to these.

The market research project included 30 depth interviews with managers/owners of music venues, clubs, pubs and bars with live or recorded music; two focus groups in London and Manchester with staff who work in noisy environments; and 200 telephone interviews with managers/owners/H&S officers in venues with music.

B2B director Carol-Ann Morgan was in charge of the research. She says:

We got the clear feeling that people would rather change working patterns than adhere to the regulations – In other words, to work a shorter day so as not to go over the time allowed to be in a noisy environment.

Two thirds of respondents had heard of the Noise at Work Regulations, yet one in five had no detailed knowledge and only half the respondents knew when the regulations come into effect. Nightclubs seem the furthest along the actual preparation line and pubs/bars the least prepared to meet the regulations. The regulations were considered to be good in that staff hearing needed to be protected at work and employers were keen to avoid lawsuits.

Impact and action

The perceived impact of the regulations is low and will be dealt with by noise limiters, provision of a range of hearing devices, and changing shift patterns and working locations. Music venue/club respondents gave more technically focused responses, such as applying limiters to sound systems and taking sound readings, whereas bars and pubs focused on staff issues such as getting staff to wear ear devices and giving staff breaks. In music venues and nightclubs, provision of hearing protection devices is the most popular approach to meeting the regulations whereas reducing the noise levels is favoured by pubs and bars.

Noise in the music industry is loudest in live music venues closely followed by nightclubs. The latter are most likely to measure levels and pubs least likely. Larger companies tend to have fewer staff exposed to noise. Where there is concern, it is for staff and not customers.

Likely actions (showing low reference to enforcement practices) to meet the regulations include:

  • Provision of a range of acceptable hearing protection devises;
  • Monitoring and reducing noise levels through limiters and education of the industry;
  • A change in shift patterns;
  • A change in work locations;
  • Working with hearing protection suppliers (only clubs).


Gaining information about the regulations comes from trade press and H&S bulletins for music venues whereas internal communications are very important for clubs, pubs and bars. However when advice on the changes is pro-actively sought, employers approach local councils, local colleges and universities rather than expensive consultancies. Decisions about staff protection from noise are most definitely taken by management, with no employees driving the change.

Awareness, acceptability and availability

Staff awareness of noise levels is very low and noise complaints are negligible. Also, staff exposure to noise varies. The majority of staff in larger pubs and bars are casually employed rather than contracted – many of these are students, and so are more affected by noise in the evening. Nightclubs are more likely to have their own employees, with the exception of security, however here there are more strategies in place to protect staff, such as rotation. Music venues mainly employ a mix of staff, contract for security and crew staff for bands. Some employees in such venues are exposed to noise, but the bars are often located away from the main venue or speakers are faced away from where staff work.

Research indicates that acceptability of ear protection by the workforce and its subsequent adoption are real issues. Workers in the entertainment industry are often students and young people, conscious of current trends and fashions, who show little awareness of noise-levels and low concern for the damage noise may cause.

The preferences for the type and features of hearing protection vary according to user group. Buyers and management want performance, comfort, security, staff acceptability, and a good price, whilst wearers want discreet protection, comfort, design, versatility/ease of use (e.g. to take in and out). A price premium will be paid for performance features such as discreetness and especially the ability to hear conversations and protect simultaneously. Branding is not an issue for hearing protection among end users. However Aearo was found to be well-known and reputable, with products that are widely available and easy to use.

There are issues surrounding availability – pubs and bars especially are looking to buy ear protection devices through wholesalers and cash & carry outlets, whereas music venues and larger clubs are more likely to expect availability through specialist suppliers (music, bar and PPE suppliers).

Carol-Ann believes that “our survey indicates that companies really should be making plans to address the noise issue now. It has been refreshing that Aearo wanted to conduct market research to see what was happening (or otherwise!) in the marketplace. They have recognised the importance of trying to understand the needs and concerns of the entertainment industry and responding to these needs.â€?

[1] About Aearo – Aearo are world leaders in sound protection. They manufacture a complete line of hearing protection for anyone who spends time in noisy environments. Their goal is to provide the greatest possible comfort, security and safety whilst being at the forefront of innovation.

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