Orchestras and hearing loss

Orchestras and hearing loss

When you think of occupations that cause hearing damage, what comes to mind? Manufacturing? Construction? Mining? With half of all workers compensation claims coming from manufacturing and construction, it is perhaps unsurprising that these are dangerous industries for hearing health.

You may be surprised to learn that there is another occupation that is emerging as having unsafe sound levels: that of the professional orchestral musicians. Many people don’t associate orchestras with unsafe levels of sound but talk to any orchestra member and they’ll tell you that the ‘pit’ is a noisy place.

But how noisy is too noisy? According to Safe Work Australia, the safe guidelines for noise at work is no more than LAeq, 8h of 85dB(A) or LC, peak of 140 dB(C). Basically, this means that workers should never be exposed to more than 85dB over an 8-hour shift or peaks of 140dB ever.

The problem of noise for these finely tuned musicians is made worse by the fact that many choose not to use hearing protection as they believe that it reduces their ability to engage with other members of the orchestra. For many musicians, the negative effects of muffling their hearing with devices such as earplugs overrides their fear of hearing loss:

“However, it seems that for many of the problems created by wearing hearing-protection devices, especially such devices’ effect on their performances were worse than their fears of hearing loss, a factor which limits their usage of such devices.”

Classical Music

And you need to be especially careful if you play a brass instrument such as tuba, trumpet or French horn. Musicians who played these instruments were consistently found to have more hearing damage than anyone else in the orchestra.

If there’s something that this research teaches us, it’s that unsafe sound levels don’t always come from where we expect.

If you think that you are being exposed to unsafe hearing levels at work be sure to chat to your supervisor and check out the Safe Work Australia guidelines on noise levels at work.

Noise induced hearing loss is usually irreversible so make sure you get your hearing checked regularly, especially if you work in a noisy workplace.