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Protection Racket

The UK's recently implemented ban on smoking in public places definitely gets my approval. After experiencing pub gigs where the air was foul and made my my clothes stink, I'm glad to see smoking banned. And I'm sure many of the SOS readership would agree, if they perform, or have performed, live music in such venues. The new ban, if policed adequately, will help protect performing musicians like us from the effects of smoke. What's more, at least in my area, the inital concerns that the ban would cause people to stay away from music venues, and would reduce the demand for live performers, have not become the reality. But I'd be interested to hear if the ban has had a significant effect on audience numbers elsewhere.

Having taken care of our lungs, the government are now moving to our ears, or to be more precise, the ears of any employed worker, including one who works in a music venue. As far as I can make out from the rather convoluted legislation, a performing band can go as deaf as they like, providing they are not employees of the venue, but the house staff have to be protected: a positive move, surely.

From April 2008 in the UK, noise at musical venues has to follow the same controls as other noise in the workplace, and this means that there are average sound dosage limits that have to be met. There are also restrictions on peak sound levels, no matter how brief, although these peak limits seem beyond what any pub PA system can deliver (unless you have your head inside the cabinet!). Of more concern to the venue management are the limits of average SPL exposure. If the lower limit of 80dBA is breached, hearing protection must be offered to staff, but it doesn't have to be used. However, if the upper limit of 85dBA is exceeded, hearing protection must be provided and used, and protection zones (within which employees must be protected) must be marked!

There are other elements of the legislation to take into account, such as the calculation of average exposure levels. These will be averaged over a week of eight-hour days, suggesting that venues only hosting one gig a week will be able to expose their staff to higher noise levels than those putting on music all night, every night. But the way the legislation is written makes it difficult to understand exactly what is required in practical terms. In any case, the forthcoming legislation seems to be finalised, so we'll just have to find a way to live with the changes.

But what parts of our body will the government decide to protect next? I'd like to nominate the human brain, and launch a campaign that makes it illegal to distribute any products that cause serious mental frustration. Most manufacturers of computer systems would be reprimanded right away, hopefully joined by the clown who thought adding text messaging to mobile phones would be wise!

While I'm on the subject, let's reserve a special place in the more rancid sub-levels of hell for the writers of user manuals that take you on a trip around several different page references before leading you back to the one where you started, without telling you what it was you were trying to find out in the first place! Of course, the government will never back a brain-numbing ban, as many of their so-called 'support' facilities cause more frustration and anguish than everyone else! We can but hope...

Paul White Editor In Chief

Published September 2007