Noise Induced Hearing Loss: Acoustic Shock

10 May 2019

The recent case of a gentleman that brought a claim against The Royal Opera House, for damage to his hearing, has highlighted the dangers of noise exposure and a lack of health and safety even in the most unlikely of locations.

The Initial Claim

The situation surrounds the case of Christopher Goldscheider v The Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation [2018] EWHC 687 (QB) where Mr. Goldscheider suffered irreparable damage to his hearing due to a performance that he was starring in back in 2012.

Mr. Goldscheider was rehearsing Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle piece using his viola and was positioned directly in front of an 18 membered brass section within the orchestra pit. This exposure to the noise of this brass section caused Mr. Goldscheider to develop what is known as Acoustic Shock which is caused by exposure to unexpected loud sounds for a long period of time. This can cause the sufferer difficulties with everyday tasks and in Mr. Goldscheider’s case, he now has to wear ear protectors to wash the dishes and prepare food. He also spent three weeks bed bound with vertigo due to being exposed to the cry of his new born child.

The Court heard his case and ruled that the Royal Opera House had been negligible and that they owed a duty of care under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 due to the fact that they had exposed Mr. Goldscheider to noise levels in excess of 130dB. To put that in to perspective, 80dB is considered a tolerable noise limit for a day at work and 130dB would me more akin to the noise produced by a jet engine.

It was also ruled that the Opera House had failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment and that they had failed to do everything reasonably practicable to eliminate potentially hazardous noise exposure. This was seen in the fact that Mr. Goldscheider even wore ear plugs during the performances, however, he was not shown the proper way to input the ear plugs so the noise created by the orchestra still had the ability to damage his hearing.

The Appeal

The Royal Opera House felt aggrieved at this decision and subsequently appealed in April 2019 arguing that the decision could be highly damaging to the classical music industry and that there was no link between the noise created in a factory environment and ‘one of the greatest artistic institutions in the world for whom noise was a product’.

Christopher Goldscheider v The Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation [2019] EWCA Civ 711 was heard before the Court Of Appeal and subsequently dismissed. The decision was made that the Royal Opera House had plenty of opportunity to rectify the situation.

Sir Brian Leveson ruled that ‘It emphasises that the risk of injury through noise is not removed if the noise - in the form of music - is the deliberate and desired objective rather than an unwanted by-product, as would be the case in relation to pneumatic machinery. The national and international reputation of the RoH is not and should not be affected by this judgment’.

It was also shown that the Opera House had since moved the order of the orchestra pit around, repositioning the brass section thus significantly reducing the noise level and subsequent risk of noise damage. This was seen to be an action that they could easily have taken prior to Mr. Goldscheider’s injury and was seen as a direct link between the injury and the cause and an action that the Opera House should have taken.

Mr. Goldscheider is now awaiting a decision on the amount of compensation he will receive for an injury that has affected his entire livelihood.

What you can do if you feel you may have Noise Induced Hearing Loss?

The case above shows that the Court’s take a hard stance on regulations that are put in place to protect workers and look to ensure that companies follow those regulations to the final word.

Mr. Goldscheider’s hearing has been damaged through a particular event, however, the majority of Noise Induced Hearing Loss is through exposure to constant loud noise within your workplace. A lot of people believe that their hearing issues are due to natural factors such as getting older, but if you have noticed that your hearing is suffering and that you have worked in a noisy environment then you may be entitled to bring a claim.

If you feel that you may have had your hearing damaged by noise exposure by an employer then contact one of our Industrial Disease Team specialists on 01254 297130 and we will be able to have a discussion with you about the prospects of bringing a claim for your injuries.