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Noise in WA Music Entertainment Venues - A Follow-up Study 2004-2006

Project report


  1. Executive summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Strategy
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Conclusions
  7. Recommendations
  8. Acknowledgement
  9. References

1. Executive summary

  • Noise levels in music entertainment venues are generally excessively high. A high rate of hearing loss sustained by the staff working in this industry has been reported.
  • Nightclubs, pubs and taverns in Western Australia are on average noisier than our UK counterparts, and also noisier than 5 years ago.
  • Music entertainment venue managers' awareness of their legal obligations to reduce their staff's risk of hearing loss under the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations is still very low, and needs to be further increased.
  • Employers and people having control of music entertainment venues need to take practicable steps to reduce this risk, such as assessing the risk, considering noise control measures, providing training on noise and hearing protection, and supplying appropriate hearing protectors to employees.
  • Employees' awareness of this risk is also very low. Most of those working in music entertainment venues have not taken the necessary measures to protect their own hearing.

2. Introduction

Exposure to high levels of music in the entertainment industry has long been an important concern to those interested in hearing conservation.  With the introduction of new and affordable powerful music equipment, the concern about noise-induced hearing loss due to loud music is increasing.  Most previous studies on music noise in the music entertainment industry have focused on the public or the musicians.  Due to much longer exposures to loud music, it is reasonable to believe that the hearing of employees working in the music entertainment industry is at much greater risk.  Therefore, noise-induced hearing loss among employees working in the music entertainment industry is a more important concern that needs to be studied.

An excellent review of noise levels and noise exposure to workers in pubs and clubs was conducted by the United Kingdom Health and Safety Laboratory (2002).  This reviewed published studies in this area from 1985.  All these previous studies indicated that noise levels were very high in almost all of the studied entertainment venues.  In the 15 studies that assessed daily noise exposure levels (LAeq,8h), the levels ranged from 89-100 dB(A).  In the majority of cases employees were subjected to daily noise exposure levels greater than 90 dB(A). 

Noise-induced hearing loss among employees has also been investigated previously.  A recent UK study (Sadhra et al. 2002) looked at the noise exposure and hearing loss among 14 students working in a university entertainment venue.  Their noise exposure levels ranged from 89 to 98 dB(A).  The hearing of these part-time bar and security staff working up to 16 hours a week was examined.  It was found that 29% of the young student employees showed permanent hearing loss of more than 30 dB at either low or high frequencies.

The number of employees working in the music entertainment industry has been increasing.  It was estimated that Britain's pubs, bars and nightclubs employed about 568,000 people in 2002, an increase of more than 153,800 compared to 1992 (RNID 2004).  Australia also has a large number of people working in this industry.   Our 4627 pubs, taverns and nightclubs employed around 84,000 people in 2001 (ABS 2001), which was 7% more than at the end of June 1998.  It is important to protect the hearing of this group of employees.

The risk of people working in the music entertainment industry suffering noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus has long been recognised by WorkSafe Western Australia.   It was the first jurisdiction in Australia to develop and issue a Code of Practice, Control of Noise in the Music Entertainment Industry, in 1992.  This was reviewed and updated in 1999, and again in 2003.  The Code of Practice aims to give practical guidance on reducing noise exposure in music venues and how to meet legal obligations.

To promote this Code of Practice and the principal Code, Managing Noise at Workplaces, and to increase the industry's awareness of its responsibilities to control noise exposure of the employees, WorkSafe Western Australia conducted an inspection project in music entertainment venues in 2000. (The report of this project can be found here)

It was concluded in the project that compliance with the noise aspects of occupational safety and health legislation was very low in the music entertainment industry.  The music entertainment industry, in general, was not fully aware of its responsibilities under the occupational safety and health legislation.  It was recommended in the project report that a follow-up study be conducted after a period of time (MacMillan and Gunn 2000).

3. Strategy

The first phase of the study was conducted from late 2004 to early 2005.  With the support of inspectors from the Western Australia Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor, 17 licensed nightclubs, pubs and taverns with different music types were selected. Among them, three had been investigated before in the 2000 project.   Music types in these 17 venues during the study were live bands, disc jockeys (DJ) and recorded background music.  Noise levels were measured and relevant noise information was obtained during each site visit.  Feedback regarding exposure to music noise was obtained from staff via a questionnaire.

This first-phase investigations were conducted between 9:00 pm and mid-night. Six venues were visited on a Friday night in August 2004 and 11 were visited on two Friday nights in January 2005.  Friday nights were selected as they are one of the busiest nights of the week.  Venues open longer hours and normally are full with patrons on Friday nights.  The music type at each venue was identified and classified.  The noise management system of each venue, such as policies or procedures regarding music noise, noise control measures and noise education and provision of hearing protectors, was checked during the visits. 

A questionnaire was also distributed to staff in each venue.  Noise exposure related information, such as the length of employment in the industry; work shift pattern; work task; availability of hearing protectors; use of hearing protectors; hearing problems; and hearing tests, was collected through the questionnaire.  

An additional 28 licensed music entertainment venues were randomly selected for the second phase of the project conducted in late 2005 and early 2006.  Instead of assessing and measuring noise exposure levels, the inspections focused on the availability of any suitable system or procedure for minimising employees' noise-induced hearing loss.   Systems or procedures for controlling the employees' noise exposure were checked in each of these venues - based on what type of music the venue had for its music events.  

According to the Western Australian Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, when employees are likely to be exposed to excessive noise, the person in control of the workplace has the responsibility to control the noise as far as practicable.  A proper noise management system shall be put in place, including: noise assessment; implementation of practical measures to reduce the noise; provision of noise and hearing protection information to the employees; and provision of suitable hearing protectors. 

Excessive noise, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, is any noise exposure level higher than the noise exposure standard LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) or LC,peak of 140 dB(C).

For those venues where a proper noise management system was not in place, law enforcement actions were taken.  These actions included issuing Improvement Notices, which gave the workplace a specified time to fix the problem, and giving Verbal Directions to the venue management if the problem could be remedied immediately.

Training and information materials on reducing employees' noise exposure, such as WorkSafe Western Australia's Codes of Practice - Managing Noise at Workplaces and Control of Noise in the Music Entertainment Industry and other relevant information on noise assessment and hearing loss prevention, were provided to each venue during the project.   

Some of the venues were visited again after the implementation of improvements.  The purpose of the revisit was to verify the improvement the workplace had achieved.

Questionnaire forms and copies of noise assessment reports conducted by consultants were also collected at that time.   The data and information from these reports were assessed and analysed.

4. Results

4.1. Results of daily noise exposure level measurements

During the nights of the investigation in the first phase of the study, 9 venues had live band music, 6 had DJs playing amplified music, and 2 had recorded background music.  The daily noise exposure levels for different employees and in different venues varied significantly, ranging between 85 and 103 dB(A).  Though the noise exposure level in those venues with recorded background music only marginally exceeded the noise standard, noise in those venues with either live band music or amplified music with DJ was far above the noise standard - all exceeding 90 dB(A).

The overall averaged daily noise exposure levels for the three different music types and with different work tasks are listed in Table 1.

Table 1.  Averaged daily noise exposure levels (LAeq,8h) associated with
different work tasks for different music types.    (dB(A))

Music type Bartender Glassie Security Manager DJ
Recorded Background Music 86 87 85 87
Amplified Music with DJ 92 93 93 92 96
Live Band 96 98 93 98

 Peak noise levels were generally measured below 140 dB(C), though a couple of readings exceeding 140 dB(C) were recorded in two noise assessment reports prepared by consultants.  These two extreme readings were not supported by the site screenings and most other detailed measured data.  Because these two extreme readings were recorded by dose meters, it is very likely that they were due to mishandling the dose meter, such as an impact on the microphone.

4.2. Results from noise questionnaire

Altogether 106 employees working as bartenders, DJs, security, glass collectors, and floor managers, returned the questionnaire during the first phase of the study.  It was found that about 85% of them were either part-time or casual staff.  They typically worked 6-12 hours a shift.

Figure 1 shows the length of employment in this industry of the responding employees.  Although most of them had worked in this industry for no more than three years, over 17% had stayed for over 5 years.  Also Fig. 2 shows that over 27% of employees joined the industry less than one year ago.  

The majority of employees (>95%) knew neither their noise exposure levels, nor the exposure standard for noise at workplaces.  Nor did they understand the risk of hearing loss when exposed to excessive noise.   

40% 34%
30% 27%
20% 17%
<1 yr 1-3 yrs 3-5 yrs >5 yrs

Figure 1. Length of employment with the industry.

Findings of hearing problems, hearing tests and availability and use of hearing protectors are shown in Fig. 2.  It can be seen that although most employees admitted that hearing protectors were available for use in the workplace, only a small percentage (28%) used them frequently or occasionally when working with high music levels.  12% claimed that their ears rang either during or after their work.  About 9% claimed that they sometimes had trouble hearing conversations after their shifts.  Only 11% had recently had their ears or hearing checked.

100% 92%
12% 11%
HP provided HP Used Ringing in ears Ears checked

Figure 2.  Questionnaire results on hearing problems and hearing protectors.

4.3. Law enforcement action

Of the 45 venues inspected during both phases of the study, 36 hosted high music level entertainment events with DJ or live band. Among these 30 had not had a proper noise assessment done, 32 had not provided noise and hearing loss information and hearing protection training to the staff, and 26 had not supplied appropriate hearing protectors to their employees.  Consequently, 103 improvement notices were issued to 35 venues.  The workplaces were given information and directions, as well as a period of time, to make the improvements. 

All venues confirmed to WorkSafe Western Australia that improvements were achieved within the given time.  Some of the improvements were checked and verified during revisits.

5. Discussion

5.1. Noise exposure levels

Compared with the noise exposure levels measured in the 2000 project, employees are exposed to higher music levels, as shown in Table 2.  Taking all comparable music types and work tasks, noise exposure levels are 1-9 dB(A) higher on average than 5 years ago. 

Table 2. Differences between averaged daily noise exposure levels measured in
2004/2005 and 2000.  (dB(A))  

Music type Bartender Glassie Security Manager DJ
Recorded Background Music +2 - - -
Amplified Music with DJ +2 +1 +6 +1 +3
Live Band +3 +4 - +9

  Bartender   Glassie   Security   Manager   DJ
2004/05 Average
2000 Average
HSE Average

Figure 3. Comparison of averaged staff daily noise exposure levels with live band music or DJ.

The average daily noise exposure levels of bar staff, glassies, security staff, managers, and DJs, working with live band music or amplified music with DJ, are compared with those measured in the 2000 project, and those averaged from 15 previous overseas studies (HSE 2002).  The results are shown in Fig 3. 

It can be seen from Fig. 3 that noise and employees' noise exposures in Western Australian music entertainment venues are at very high levels.  The noise exposure levels of employees with different work tasks have all increased significantly from 2000.  Except for the noise exposure of the security staff, noise exposure levels of our bar staff, glassies staff, and DJs are all higher than those levels averaged from 15 previous overseas studies. 

5.2. Industry's awareness of noise responsibilities

Compared to the situation in 2000, the industry's awareness of its responsibilities in managing excessive noise exposures has increased, as shown by Fig. 4.  

10% 11.1%
Noise assessed Staff trained HP provided


Figure 4. Percentage of venues that complied with noise management requirements.

About 26% of venues had done a proper noise assessment, compared to none in 2000.   About 22% of venues had developed a noise control policy and provided information and training on noise and hearing protection to their employees.  Only about 8% of venues did that in 2000.  Over 44% of venues provided hearing protectors to their staff, up from about 38% in 2000. 

However, Fig. 4 also demonstrates that the industry's awareness of its noise control responsibilities and compliance with the legislation are still very low.  Site visits indicated that many employers had no idea of occupational noise standards and regulations.  Some of them even confused their responsibilities for reducing employees' noise exposure levels with their responsibilities for limiting environmental noise emissions, as many of the venues have environmental noise limitations on their licences. 

Employees' awareness of the need to protect their own hearing is also very low.  The majority of staff chose not to use hearing protectors even when they were provided.  The reasons given for not using hearing protectors are various, such as: hearing protectors affect my conversation with patrons; do not know any risk for not using hearing protectors; or want to take the risk if any.  For most of those venues in which hearing protectors are provided, use of hearing protectors is only an option determined by employees themselves.       

6. Conclusions

 It is recognised that the problem of noise exposure in the music entertainment industry is special and difficult.  Unlike other industries, where noise is a hazardous by-product that should be eliminated, noise is actually the desired product of the music entertainment industry.  Clearly venue operators and owners are in a difficult situation.  On one hand they have to run a commercially viable business offering music desired by customers, on the other hand they have a legal obligation to provide a working environment which will not damage the hearing of the employees. 

The evidence from this study and all previous studies shows that there is no doubt that the daily noise exposure levels of workers in pubs and clubs exceed the noise exposure standard of LAeq,8h = 85 dB(A) in the majority of cases.  However, enforcement of noise control has been made difficult in this industry due to the "as far as practicable" constraint in the statement regarding the reduction of the noise level in the Regulations.  It is very important that some specific guidance is disseminated, which ensures that employees are to be protected whilst maintaining commercial viability for the venue, such as WorkSafe Western Australia's Code of Practice - Control of Noise in the Music Entertainment Industry.

Results from this study indicate that employees' daily noise exposure levels in Western Australian pubs, nightclubs and taverns have increased significantly since 2000.  With the increasing number of people working in this industry, the need to target and solve this problem is becoming more important. 

Currently, the industry's awareness of music noise risk - the employers' responsibilities for reducing employees' noise exposures and the employees' responsibilities for protecting their own hearing - is still very low, though it has increased since the last project in 2000.  Continuous efforts to increase the industry's awareness are very important.

It was found in this study that the three venues that were visited in the 2000 project had much better noise management systems.  They all provided hearing protectors to their employees, and had policies to reduce employees' risk of noise-induced hearing loss.  It is proof that some employers in the music entertainment industry are willing to take responsibility to protect their employees' hearing once they are aware of their legal obligations.

7. Recommendations

Continuing to increase the industry's awareness of their legal obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations is still a very effective approach to the problem in the current situation.  This will be done by providing more owners of pubs, nightclubs and taverns with information, education and training that explain the reasons for enforcement of the legislation, methods of compliance and practical methods of reducing the employees' noise exposure levels.  It will also be done by taking law enforcement action if required. 

Informing the general public about the possible risks of hearing loss associated with frequent attendance at places that play loud amplified music can also be useful in changing the noisy culture of the industry.  As a result, the noise exposure levels of the employees would also be reduced.  This information needs to be provided in a manner that does not sensationalise the problem but informs of practical steps that can be taken to avoid the possibility of hearing damage.

Research and development on new, effective and economically practicable technologies or devices for reducing the employees' noise exposure levels in the industry are also necessary.  Most of the venues started considering the control measures after an inspection.  However, most common engineering control measures taken were relocating or redirecting loudspeakers.  Though these measures could reduce the noise exposures of the staff, due to the indoor reverberant environment, their effects are very limited.  

8. Acknowledgment

Support from Inspectors of Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor, Government of Western Australia is acknowledged.

9. References

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Clubs, Pubs, Taverns and Bars, Australia,

AS/NZS 1269.1 (1998), Occupational noise management - Part 1: Measurement and assessment of noise immision and exposure, Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand.

Fleming C. 1996, Assessment of noise exposure level of bar staff in discotheques, Appl Acoust., Vol. 49 (1), pp. 85-94.

Health and Safety Laboratory 2002, Noise levels and noise exposure of workers in pubs and clubs - a review of the literature, Research Report 026, Health and Safety Excutive, UK.

MacMillan R. and Gunn P. 2000, Noise control in the music entertainment industry project - Summary report, WorkSafe Western Australia.

Sadhra S., Jackson C.A., Ryder T. and Brown M.J. 2002, Noise exposure and hearing loss among student employees working in university entertainment venues, Ann. Occup. Hgy., Vol. 46 (5), pp. 455-463.

TUC/RNID Health and Safety Report 2004, Noise overload - employee noise exposure in pubs, bars and clubs, Organisation and Services Department, UK.

Working Life 2005, Good sound environment possible at rock clubs, National In-stitute for Working Life, http:// www. arbetslivsinstitute. se/ workinglife/ 05-2/05. asp

WorkSafe Western Australia Commission 2002, Code of Practice - Managing Noise at Workplaces, Government of Western Australia.

WorkSafe Western Australia Commission 2003, Code of Practice - Control of Noise in the Music Entertainment Industry, Government of Western Australia.

 By Jingnan Guo and Pam Gunn
WorkSafe Western Australia

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