TCS Daily

Loud Enough For You?

By Andrew Ian Dodge - September 12, 2002 12:00 AM

The European Union has decided that its citizens need better protection for their hearing. The subject has been under discussion for many years, as early as 1994 in fact. Ever vigilant, the EU has decided that a maximum of 87decibels (db) should be allowed in any workplace. Any level over this requires the provision of ear-plugs for all those in attendance.

Obviously this standard would preclude any live music performance. What is more worrying is that there are some who think the proposed level is too high! According to the European Parliament's proposal to amend the legislation, "More should be done to improve the protection of workers with the emphasis on preventive measures. It is therefore proposed that the upper action values be lowered from 85 to 83 db."

Article 1 in "Aims and Scope" of proposed directive calls for minimum requirements for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety arising or likely to arise from exposure to noise and in particular the risk to hearing.

Teresa Villiers, a Conservative MEP from London, has taken up the cause and released a press warning. The directive, she states, "could put many local pubs and clubs out of business. There are thousands of pubs in London alone, and three-quarters of them play music: this could be banned as too loud under a new EU directive."

She continues: "It is not just the pubs and clubs who have a problem: the Association of British Orchestras claim that the Directive would virtually stop them playing any loud repertoire whatsoever. A single trumpet can reach 130 decibels. It has been seriously suggested that audiences and musicians should all wear earplugs."

It is not just orchestras and their audiences that would be affected. This directive would in effect ban any live performance or concert. The UK and much of the EU have a very healthy live music scene ranging from death metal to classical, punk to organ recitals. All of these performances routinely violate the proposed law.

It is hard to imagine the sound engineer on a major rock concert being able to wear ear-plugs and effectively do his job. He must hear the music to make sure the sound is correct at all times. Musicians likewise need to be able to hear what they are playing, ear-plugs would severely limits this ability.

At a recent discussion meeting, I challenged Geoffrey Martin, the Head of Representation for the EU in the UK, on this issue. His response was relatively hostile suggesting that I was attempting to create another "Euro-myth". He then cited the examples of other Euro-myths in an effort to mock my concern.

The UK has had strict workplace noise laws for many years. These are generally considered to be effective and sufficient. But the EU directive would go too far. And, as shown above, there are moves by some to lower the limit. This is another wedge issue.

I am sure Norway will be pleased by this legislation. I suspect that much of the festival scene in the EU would relocate itself to this non-member, boosting tourism as music fans flock to a country were the music can be heard properly.

Dale Amon, of Libertarian Samizdata, a former musician and blues fan, had this to say about the legislation. "I've read the posts on the recent EU regulation that nowhere in Europe should a workplace exceed 83db and did not think a great deal about it until tonight when I was standing up near the stage at an electric blues gig."

He continues: "That might be true when they've got the gig with real dosh... but for most artists politics is just words. The enemy is whoever threatens your art."

Like the regulations on the disposal of fridges in the EU, which have resulted in so-called "fridge mountains" where the things have been dumped by people unable to get rid of them, this is a classic example of EU thought. Come up with a regulation that makes MEPs feel good about themselves and then worry about the consequences afterwards.

Whatever arbitrary decibel level that is written into the directive, it will be entirely unenforceable. But it will succeed in convincing yet another group of citizens of the ignorance and insanity of the EU and its legislators.
It is obvious that the EU would rather that MEPs such as Theresa Villiers do not raise awareness to proposed regulation. Stealth legislation is an EU specialty. We shall see how the legislation emerges from its next reading. If I were a live music promoter in the UK, I would be very worried indeed. How long will sensible UK citizens continue to support this kind of interference in their lives and in their country?



TCS Daily Archives