The regulations have been put in place to ensure employers and self employed people protect employees and others 'at work' from risks to their hearing through exposure to noise. Figures show that 58% of classical musicians and 30% of rock and pop musicians suffer from some form of music induced hearing loss!
The Noise at Work Regulations set out two action value levels relating to noise exposure, and specify what actions should be taken if sound levels reach these thresholds. They also determine an exposure limit value which should not be exceeded. Click here for further details.
The Regulations also state that employers must reduce the risk of hearing damage to employees to the lowest level reasonably practicable, eliminating noise at source where it is reasonably practicable to do so. Employers must also protect the hearing of other people 'at work' who might be affected by sound levels where possible. It would certainly be good practice to count volunteers in this category. The Regulations do not apply to audience at events, but remember there is a general duty to protect audience health and safety under both health and safety and common law.
Note that the requirements of the Regulations are as far as reasonably practicable. This means that a computation of effort and cost may be taken into account as may the nature of the event or activity, to an extent.
Use this daily noise exposure ready reckoner to work out daily noise exposure levels. Where the exposure varies markedly from day to day (e.g. a one off event) use this weekly noise exposure calculator. In order to measure noise levels at the event you can either hire a portable noise meter, borrow one (for example, from your local Environmental Health Office) or ask your sound engineer to measure levels. It is sufficient to estimate levels as long as you are confident the estimation is accurate.
Once you have a figure for daily / weekly exposure you will be able to assess your responsibilities under the Regulations but, don't forget, there is the overarching duty to reduce the risk of hearing damage to employees to the lowest level reasonably practicable. You should write an action plan to help you to help you to meet your obligations under the Regulations and reduce noise levels in the workplace.
Further advice, taken from my book'Health and Safety at Outdoor Community Events' including suggested strategies to reduce sound levels and exposure to sound levels is available here.
Open Abigail Cheverst's article on noise at work for the music and entertainment industry here
HSE website - Noise at work in the music and entertainment sectors
Open HSE general guidance (PDF) here
Sound Advice - advice on noise in music and entertainment sectors website set up by HSE
Open link to purchase Sound Advice printed guidance here
Full text of the Noise at work Regulations 2005
Open HSE Mythbuster: noise in music and entertainment sectors (PDF) here
Open draft Sound Advice document summarising responsibilities under the Regulations for music and entertainment sector (PDF) here
Open draft Sound Advice document giving advice on on noise assessments (PDF) here
Open HSE 'hearing loss - what's it like?' page here
Open a great site from the RNID here with lots of useful advice for musicians including selecting appropriate ear plugs and various case studies.
Open presentations from HSE 'Playing Safe' event here - including: