Hearing Conservation and Noise Management Practices in Professional Orchestras
Hearing conservation and noise exposure management for professional orchestras is a difficult issue resistant to standard control measures as used in other industries with excessive noise problems. Although there has been a great deal of research into this area in terms of the audiological status of musicians and their exposure to noise, there are relatively few industry-specific strategies that can be adopted by an orchestra looking to address these issues. Australia does not have a uniform approach to hearing conservation management in its orchestras; however, each orchestra actively grapples with the challenges of balancing legal, practical, and artistic concerns. This study systematically investigated hearing conservation practices, noise exposure management, and audiological screening protocols in eight professional orchestras. The research involved personal interviews with staff at each orchestra, including inspection of venues and facilities. While all these orchestras were aware of the risks and were actively taking significant steps to reduce noise exposure, a range of approaches, with varying degrees of effectiveness and understanding of the issue, were found across the sector. There was limited evidence of educational programs for either the musicians at risk of excessive noise exposure or the staff responsible for devising and implementing control measures. In addition, the reported use of adequate personal hearing protection by musicians was poor. As Australia has recently introduced a national approach to workplace health and safety, a similar approach to noise and audiological management across the country's orchestral sector is proposed, drawn from existing research and practice. This will enable both consistent procedures and meaningful dialogue between the orchestras on the topics of hearing conservation, audiological monitoring, and educational practices.