Royal Opera House loses appeal

Last month the Royal Opera House lost its appeal against a 2018 ruling to award damages to a viola player who suffered ‘acoustic shock’ from noise levels in the orchestra pit in 2012. ‘Acoustic shock’ is a condition with symptoms including tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness – this is the first time ‘acoustic shock’ has been recognised as a condition which can be compensated by a court.

Musician Christopher Goldscheider won his case a year ago but the Royal Opera House, with support from the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), the Society of London Theatre and the UK Theatre Association, appealed the ruling, claiming that it failed to distinguish between the industrial noise of a factory and ‘one of the greatest artistic institutions in the world, for whom “noise” was a product’.

This is significant because in the past it has been difficult to apply Noise Regulations to an artistic institution in the same way you would a building site – especially when, in the case of the Royal Opera House, sound is not a by-product of an industrial process but is an essential part of the product itself.

However, whilst the Court of Appeal did not overturn the original decision, it upheld an aspect of it - that the wearing of hearing protection at all times was not practicable.

Chief executive of the ROH Alex Beard said: ‘The original high court ruling, which stipulated that hearing protection must be worn by orchestral musicians at all time, was widely acknowledged by the live-music and theatre industries as completely impractical, with potentially devastating and far-reaching consequences for the entire sector, and we are pleased that this unworkable solution has been overturned.’

The Royal Opera House and other orchestras will now need to re-assess policies and procedures and the design of orchestra spaces to better protect musicians.

According to Help Musicians UK: “The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Chris’s tragic hearing loss reflect a growing number of hearing related issues, as highlighted in our 2015 hearing survey, where 59.5% of musicians said they had suffered hearing loss and 78% said working as a musician was a contributor to their hearing loss.”

If you are an ISM member and have experienced hearing-loss during your work a musician or have concerns about this, please contact our legal team.