The Royal Opera House loses its appeal against Viola Player

The Royal Opera recently lost its appeal against Viola player, Mr Chris Goldscheider who damaged his hearing whilst rehearsing, Wagner’s Die Walkure. 

In 2012, Viola player, Mr Christopher Goldscheider was rehearsing Richard Wagner’s Die Walkure, whilst sitting in front of the trumpet section where noise levels reached to 132 decibels. This is roughly equivalent to the noise levels of a jet engine. Mr Goldscheider felt a sudden pain in his ear which left him with lasting damage and unable to perform professionally.

Mr Goldscheider sued The Royal Opera House for his permanent hearing damage and acoustic shock – a condition which includes tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness. The High Court also ruled that The Royal Opera House had breached health and safety regulations and were responsible for the pain caused and permanent hearing loss of Mr Goldscheider. 

The Court of Appeal ruled that The Royal Opera House was responsible to protect Mr Goldscheider during the 2012 rehearsal. They also stated that it failed to act upon the dangerous noise levels, until Mr Goldscheider was injured. This was the first time acoustic shock was recognized as a condition, which could be compensated by the court.

Mr Goldscheider told the BBC, “I am grateful to the court for acknowledging that more should have been done to protect me and other musicians from the risk of permanent and life changing hearing problems. We all want to find a way to participate and share in the experience of live music, in a safe and accessible way and I hope that the guidance which the Court of Appeal has given in my case will help others. I hope that the Royal Opera House will now support me to get on with rebuilding my life.”

1st Option’s Noise in Performing Groups expert, Ruth Hansford who worked with the BBC and others to produce ‘Sound Advice’, a guide on noise exposure to musicians, and who is now working towards a PhD on musicians’ hearing explained, “There was a lot of discussion at the time that the UK government had over-interpreted the EU directive. The UK regulations say that ‘noise means any audible sound’ but there’s no definition of that in the directive.”  But the courts have taken the view that music is the same as any other noise for the purposes of the legislation. 

According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005), employers must carry out effective risk assessments to identify noise levels in the workplace. Where those levels are higher than 80 decibels, employers must take steps to reduce the noise, provide suitable hearing protections and make sure employees understand and are properly trained about noise risk. This case will bring further scrutiny to noise in the music industry and employers will need to ensure that employees are receiving the correct health and safety support related to the potential damage caused by noise. 

1st Option can support employers with noise assessment and management in performing groups, theatres and other music venues.  Call 0845 500 8484