Health and safety

Lid of box with a red cross and text 'First aid kit' and 'Premier soins' (the French equivalent)

© Hauge

Is participating in music scenes bad for your health?

Noise pollution (unwanted noise) is Britain's top public health issue. It attracts more complaints from the public than anything else and is routinely blamed for damaging people's health and well-being. The sources of this noise may include cars, fire alarms, aeroplanes and barking dogs but also loud music emanating from ghetto blasters, parties, festivals, pubs or clubs.

British cities have witnessed a dramatic increase in city-centre living over recent years. In Liverpool many people were attracted to new city-centre loft apartments by the idea of living in areas known for their nightlife, entertainment and cultural vibrancy. Soon however, some of these new residents were complaining about the volume of the musical sounds emanating from nearby clubs and bars and the noise of the people entering or leaving them.

In Britain music scenes are routinely affected by legislation put in place to protect workers and the public from the harmful effects of noise pollution. The sound levels of music venues, for example, are constantly monitored to ensure that agreed levels are not exceeded. Consequently rock musicians commonly tell stories of how their instruments and amplification equipment have been suddenly 'unplugged' in the middle of a live public performance, and club owners have been fined for breaching noise regulations.

There is a story about the manager of Led Zeppelin which describes his efforts to combat the making of live bootleg recordings at Led Zeppelin concerts. At one concert in Vancouver in 1971 he saw what he thought was bootleg recording equipment on the floor and personally ensured that the equipment be destroyed, only to find out later that it was in fact a noise pollution unit being operated by city officials to test the volume of the concert.

New health and safety laws were recently introduced in Britain to protect those working in clubs and other music venues from the negative effects of noise and also smoking. Liverpool City Council, for example, approved a smoking ban in 2004. Yet whilst some musicians and fans welcomed this decision, others were concerned that it would deter people from going to see musicians perform in the city's smaller venues and would therefore have a negative impact on the local music scenes.

Live music events have always been a focus for health and safety concerns. In 2007 Liverpool's Mathew Street festival was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns about the potential threat to public safety posed by building and regeneration work in Liverpool city centre. This decision generated huge controversy, particularly given the preparations that were underway for the celebration of the city's status as European Capital of Culture 2008.

Tragically however, live music events have caused deaths and injuries. Crowd surges, for example, were responsible for the deaths of 37 audience members at the Colosseum music hall in Liverpool (1878); 9 music fans at the Roskilde music festival in Denmark (2000) and 21 club-goers in Chicago (2003). These incidents were caused by different factors but all raised serious questions about the management of health and safety at live music events.

Fire resulted in the deaths of 194 people at a rock concert in Argentina (2005), 100 people at a Rhode Island club in New York (2003) and 492 people at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston (1942). During the 19th century there were fires and loss of life in many British theatres and music halls. Fire safety consultants have argued that it usually takes a mass tragedy to trigger the tightening of fire regulations. Yet many fire precautions are inadequate and fire regulations are frequently breached. Further information about Liverpool venues affected by fire is available in Maps, music and fire on this website.