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Apparently, high levels of noise do not damage your hearing…

… as long as the “noise” is music. Thus spake Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail earlier this year – he’s a journalist, for some value of “journalist”. “Blessed is the man who, being ignorant, abstains from giving us worthy evidence of the fact” (with apologies to George Eliot). This journalistic licence is addictive, I feel better already….
Quoting RJ: “As the Mail [made up] reported earlier this week, one honk on a cornet is alleged to be enough to cause permanent hearing loss. Standing next to a saxophone is as dangerous as firing a field cannon.” “After just 19 minutes exposure to a school orchestra, you might as well start learning sign language and lip reading”. “Better still, why not just ban music altogether? That‘s what the real Taliban did… That way, no one will come home from school with his ears bleeding”. “..the trouble arises when elf’n’safety starts seeking out problems where they don’t exist and meddling in areas which are nothing to do with them..”. “HSE shock troops… more lethal than operating a pneumatic drill.. jumbo jet taking off.. earmuffs.. how are they supposed to teach when they can’t hear what is being played?”. Etc etc….

Back in the real world where the noise regulations now apply, I have measured the sound from orchestras and other musicians (and taken pleasure in winding-up prima donnas by referring to the “noise” from their virtuoso performances). Fact: music teachers and musicians can be at substantial risk of hearing damage (which is just a tad important given their occupations…). Also fact: reducing the risk is largely a matter of attitude and education coupled with a few simple precautions. My sons’ band members all wear ear plugs when rehearsing. I wear musicians’ ear plugs at rock concerts (which often improves the quality of the sound as your ears are no longer overloaded). One of the examples we use on our entertainment noise competency courses is a Notting Hill Carnival float at over 140dB – well into instant hearing damage territory.

If you’re to be true to your own “elf’n’safety” philosophy, it should be easy to persuade you to drive your own car at high speed with no seat-belt, disabled air-bag, no anti-lock brakes, at night, in the rain, with treadless tyres – and let’s add a loop of the greatest hits of Barry Manilow playing at full volume. After an hour, you’d be begging for hearing protection…. If we added a spike to the centre of the steering wheel (auto-kebabing), you’d drive more carefully – because you know it is dangerous.
So let’s not spoil the fun, monsieur Richard (may I call you Dick?). Let’s just help people in the music and entertainment industry, or those who have to work in places such as venue bars, avoid going deaf through simple (or, in this case, wilful) ignorance of the real and present risks….

02. July 2012 by Peter Wilson
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