As a venue operator, you are legally responsible for providing a safe environment for all your employees and clientele, including musicians performing at your venue. This includes eliminating any risks to health and safety and, where this is not feasible, taking action to reduce the risks. This chapter provides background information on health and safety risks that are particularly relevant to the live music industry and resources for gaining further information.
In Victoria, occupational health and safety is governed by a system of laws, regulations and compliance codes that set out the responsibilities of employers and workers to ensure that safety is maintained at work.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (the Act) sets out the key principles, duties and rights in relation to occupational health safety, including the requirement that all organisations:
- have policies and procedures that aim to protect the health and safety of everyone entering the workplace;
- ensure such policies and procedures are documented and available to everyone entering the workplace;
- undertake risk assessments to identify hazards and implement appropriate control measures; and
- consult with everyone involved in the workplace regarding health and safety.
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 further the objectives of the Act by providing, among other things, procedures for the resolution of certain health and safety risks in the workplace. Health and safety risks outlined in the regulations that are particularly relevant to the live music industry include:
Repeated or continued exposure to excessively loud sound levels can result in irreversible hearing damage. Sound level exposure must not exceed an average of 85 dB per eight-hour day or a peak sound level of 140 dB. It is your responsibility as a venue operator to ensure that sound levels do not exceed these limits or, if this is not feasible, take action to reduce the risks of hearing damage to people in your venue.
- For every 3dB increase in level, sound energy is doubled and exposure time should be halved to ensure that the maximum sound exposure level is not exceeded. That means for 88dB a maximum exposure of 4 hours, 91 dB a maximum of 2 hours exposure, etc.
- Average sound levels in live music venues have been recorded as typically being between 90 and 110 dB LAeq. At these loudness levels, it is possible that venue workers, musicians and patrons will be at increased risk of sustaining hearing damage due to exposures beyond the maximum acceptable limit.
Manual handling means any activity requiring the use of force by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain an object. Manual handling is the most common cause of workplace injury in Victoria and it is your responsibility to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury from manual handling in your venue. See the best practice section below for further information.
There are several reasons for reducing the sound levels in your venue, including:
- avoiding hearing damage amongst staff, performing musicians and clientele;
- complying with health and safety legislation;
- reducing the sound emanating from your venue and disturbance to your neighbours;
- providing a more pleasant environment for everyone in the venue; and
- helping prevent sound-related fatigue, loss of concentration and stress in your employees.
Managing sound levels and applying OHS legislation to music venues is a challenge, as a certain level of loudness is often desirable for a particular live musical performance. However, this needs to be balanced against the responsibility to protect the hearing of employees, musicians and patrons.
Chapter One of these guidelines outlines several measures for reducing sound levels in your venue, including the installation of noise limiters and sound-absorbing materials.
There are other alternative steps you can take such as:
- modifying the layout of the band room (where possible) and;
- changing speaker positions.
You can also consider rotating staff between loud and quieter work areas and allowing ‘hearing breaks’ during shifts. If you have implemented all of these measures and the average sound level in your venue still exceeds 85 dB per eight-hour day, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations require that you provide anyone exposed to this sound level for an extended period of time with personal hearing protectors. However, this should be a last resort. The regulations also require that you provide regular hearing checks for these staff.
Perhaps most importantly, educating your staff, and talking to sound engineers and musicians about hearing risks and involving them in the creation of a hearing loss prevention policy for your venue can help to engender a positive hearing health culture that everyone at the venue can buy into. If all your stakeholders are on board, the process of monitoring sound levels and implementing protective measures is much more likely to succeed.
The risk of injury from manual handling is particularly high during equipment load-in, set-up, and load-out. The weight of the object being moved is just one of many factors that may cause injury. Other factors include the movements and posture required, dimensions and grip of the load, and layout of the workplace. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk of injury during manual lifting, including:
- storing equipment at waist height and as close to the stage area as possible;
- using trolleys to transport equipment where practicable;
- designating the route of movement prior to moving an object and make sure you have a clear pathway;
- ensuring that staff and musicians performing at your venue are aware of safe lifting techniques; and
- when executing group lifts, ensuring that one person is in charge and position people for the lift having regard to the size, shape and balance of the load.
For further information on reducing the risk of injury during manual handling, see the resources section of this chapter.
Any lighting equipment likely to reach high temperatures should be guarded to prevent overheating. In addition, certain forms of lighting have the potential to adversely affect the health and safety of people in your venue:
- Strobe lighting can induce epileptic seizures. Flicker rates of four flashes per second or fewer are recommended and all strobes should be synchronised when more than one strobe is used.
- Exposure to UV light can harm the eyes and the skin, particularly among people taking certain prescription drugs. You should avoid using UV lights wherever possible and if they must be used, take steps to minimise harm, such as enclosing the source of the light or eliminating reflection.
- Lasers can cause serious harm, particularly to the eyes and skin. Of the five classes of lasers, only Class 1 are considered intrinsically safe and Class 2 are only considered safe in some circumstance. Class 3A, 3B and Class 4 lasers require special precautions and should not be used except under carefully controlled conditions by a trained operator.
All electrical equipment in your venue should be well maintained and regularly tested and tagged in accordance with AS/NZS 3760. Also known as ‘Test and Tag’, AS/NZS 3760 is an optional standard that requires that electrical equipment be inspected for damage on a periodic basis and tagged with details of the test date, when the next test is due, and a tracking code.
Best practice is for electrical equipment to be tested and tagged at least:
- annually in the case of electrical equipment;
- every six months in the case of extension cables;
- before and after every hire in the case of hired equipment;
- every five years in the case of non-moveable fixed electrical equipment; and
- immediately after repair and before use in the case of electrical equipment that has been repaired.
Testing and tagging can be done by anyone deemed competent by training or experience. See the resources section of this chapter for further information.
The WorkSafe Victoria website has a range of tools, tips and guides to help you address health and safety issues in your venue.
For further information on electrical standards and to purchase Test and Tag (AS/NZS 3760), visit infostore.saiglobal.com/en-au/standards/as-nzs-3760-2010-1436348/
Work Safe Western Australia has published a Code of Practice for Control of Noise in the Music Entertainment Industry. Although published in 2003, its industry-specific tips and suggestions remain relevant for music venues facing the challenge of managing sound levels in a practical way. The code is available at: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/publications/code-practice-control-noise-music-entertainment-industry
For further information on hearing checks (audiometric testing), download the PDF on this page here www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/compliance-code-noise
The Health and Safety Executive, UK has developed a comprehensive website specifically aimed at providing practical advice for music venues. Since the UK and Australian regulations on occupational sound limits are essentially the same, the wealth of information and advice offered at this site is applicable to Australian venues: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg260.htm
HEARsmart is about helping Australians take charge of their hearing health.