Sound Advice Note 7

Freelancers and other self-employed people

This is the full text of the Sound Advice Working Group recommendations for freelancers and self-employed people who work in the music and entertainment industry. It may help you manage your personal exposure to noise.


7.1 This advice will help those working in music and entertainment who regard themselves as freelancers or self-employed, for example session musicians, freelance orchestra musicians, jazz musicians, teachers, DJs, lighting/sound engineers, video designers, technicians, cameramen, stage production managers, crew members etc. Freelancers and self-employed workers are also advised to read all the venue-specific guidance that applies to their work. Self-employed musicians are often referred to as freelancers.

Responsibilities under the Noise Regulations

7.2 The Noise Regulations require each self-employed person to manage the risk to themselves and, so far as reasonably practicable, any other people at work, including other freelancers and other self-employed workers. This will include reducing the risk from noise exposure through organisational and technical solutions. If the risk cannot be eliminated in this way then the engager/contractor may need to provide hearing protection and, if necessary, ensure it is worn.

7.3 Engagers/contractors and freelancers/self-employed people must work together to provide a safe working environment and protect the hearing of individuals. Engagers/contractors should take reasonable steps to ascertain the exposure of performers during other engagements in the day and manage the risk to their hearing (also see paragraph 7.14).

7.4 Collective measures such as organisational controls or changes to layout etc are generally best done by the person in overall control of the venue or production, for example the producer, the publican, the venue operator, promoter or other event organiser. Also, where required, the person in charge should provide hearing protection to workers who need it.

7.5 Freelancers and self-employed subcontractors are advised whenever undertaking work to clarify any responsibilities under the Noise Regulations and to ensure that any risks are controlled - this is best established by the contract of engagement.

7.6 Freelancers and self-employed people should understand the practical approach to noise control as it relates to their own speciality. They should use their knowledge to help reduce their own risk and influence others, for instance by engaging proactively with other freelancers and self-employed people in the industry or by checking to ensure that venues have all the necessary procedures in place to help keep exposure levels down. They should not rely solely upon personal hearing protection.


Self-employed technician

A self-employed backline technician is engaged to work on an event.

The main contractor should be responsible for implementing noise controls, such as equipment specification, speaker positions, schedules, the provision of acoustic screens etc as these are often beyond the technician's control.

The main contractor should also ensure suitable hearing protection is provided where required, although individuals may wish to use their own hearing protection if they have special requirements such as custom-moulded earplugs.

The technician should confirm that the main contractor will be responsible for implementing the necessary noise controls. This could be done by means of a simple clause in the contract of engagement.

Exposure management

7.7 Many musicians and other workers in music and entertainment are self-employed and may work for a number of different clients. They may carry out a number of engagements in a day for different engagers/contractors. Freelance musicians, for example, may well be involved in one or two or even all of the following activities in any one day:

  • Rehearsal(s).
  • Performance(s).
  • Teaching.
  • Practising.
  • Recording.

7.8 If a musician were to be exposed for 3 hours at 88 dB, the daily exposure would be 84 dB. However, if this happened three times in the day the total daily exposure would be 88 dB. In this situation the musician's hearing will be at risk.

In general freelancers and self-employed people are advised to try to adopt any relevant recommendation on controlling noise contained in this guidance, regardless of the duration of an engagement.

7.9 Freelancers and self-employed people should be aware of their exposure to noise over the day. If they undertake more than one session or activity (such as practising or a sound check) during a day they ought to keep track of their exposure. This could be done using HSE's on-line calculator or the ready reckoner (see Sound Advice Note 3 'Noise risk assessment and planning'). Where they identify a risk they should discuss with their engagers/contractors what controls could be used to reduce exposure.


Freelance folk musician

A folk musician (flute player) has the following activities on a particular day:

Practice at home (2 hours) 86 dB
Teaching in a local school (3 hours) 89 dB
Gig in a venue (2 hours) 93 dB

Using the points system (see Estimating noise exposure using the points system in Sound Advice Note 3 'Noise risk assessment and planning') the daily exposure from these activities will be:

Practice 2 hours 86 dB 32 points
Teaching 3 hours 89 dB 97 points
Gig 2 hours 93 dB 160 points
Total 289 points = 89 dB

At this level of exposure the musician would be at risk of hearing loss and should do what they can to reduce the exposure levels and if necessary wear suitable hearing protection and have a regular hearing check (health surveillance).

Possible methods for reducing exposure levels include:

  • controlling amplification levels during the gig;
  • arranging to conduct lessons in a suitable classroom;
  • practising at lower levels and encouraging students to do the same by

stressing the importance of dynamic control and choice of repertoire.

Estimate exposure

7.10 It is good practice for freelancers/self-employed people to estimate the likely noise levels produced by their instrument or specialist occupation (for example typical levels during practice by a brass player or during a show for a stage manager.) This will enable them to estimate their daily exposure and, if necessary, take steps to reduce the risk. They should also ask engagers/contractors to provide advance information of their likely exposure before work begins. Representative noise levels of instruments and of workplaces such as pubs and clubs are given in other parts of this guidance.

7.11 Measuring sound levels with a noise meter can be helpful in tracking exposure during practice, rehearsals or where no data on noise levels is available. However, noise measurements can misinterpret personal exposure if they are not carried out properly (see Measuring noise in Sound Advice Note 3 'Noise risk assessment and planning').

7.12 Freelancers and other self-employed workers are strongly recommended to keep a record of their noise exposure and when they have had to use hearing protection. This will help them to understand the extent of their exposure over a typical period and the noise risks they might face. The Musicians' Union can provide its freelance members with a Hearing Passport to help with this process.

Hearing protection

7.13 If the exposure is likely to be over 80 dB the engager/contractor should have suitable hearing protection available and freelancers/self-employed subcontractors may choose to wear it. If the exposure is likely to be at or above 85 dB, hearing protection must be worn. Personal hearing protection should be used while decisions are being made on how best to reduce noise exposure by technical or organisational means, and should continue to be used if there is still a risk to hearing after all other reasonably practicable measures have been put in place.

7.14 While it is the responsibility of the engager/contractor to provide a healthy and safe working environment (including hearing protection where it is necessary), freelancers/self- employed workers are advised to provide their own personal hearing protection where they have specific requirements, such as custom-moulded earplugs (see Sound Advice Note 5 'Personal hearing protection').

Other ways to reduce exposure


7.15 It is recommended that, whenever possible, freelance musicians practise at quieter levels in appropriate practice room(s) to reduce their overall exposure to noise.

Setting up

7.16 Freelance musicians should think carefully about how they set up their equipment when carrying out a gig. Strategic positioning and direction of speakers and amplifier-combos are recommended.

Noise limiters

7.17 Freelancers and sound technicians, including those providing their own amplification equipment, may find that some venues will have a noise limiter that has been set to cut the power supply to the amplification equipment when a specific noise level is reached. Ensure that you ask the venue if a limiter has been set, what type it is, and how that may affect your performance. See Sound Advice Note 11 'Pubs and clubs' for further details of types of limiters. The limiter may have been set to reduce noise breakout from the premises or to protect the venue staff from hearing damage.

Leisure time

7.18 Freelance musicians should think carefully about how they set up their equipment when carrying out a gig. Strategic positioning and direction of speakers and amplifier-combos are recommended.

Health surveillance

7.19 Where there are many short-term engagements, it may be difficult to ensure the provision of adequate health surveillance. While the Noise Regulations do not require freelancers or self-employed people to provide themselves with health surveillance, it is strongly recommended that they have regular hearing checks.

7.20 Hearing checks will not prevent damage to hearing but regular checks will identify any early signs of hearing loss and highlight the need for action to be taken to reduce the risk of any further damage.

7.21 Freelancers and self-employed people need to take action to protect their hearing from noise risk. The Musicians' Union, the RNID, NHS+ and other bodies such as the British Society of Audiology can provide guidance and access to health surveillance. Freelancers can use the Musicians' Hearing Services, which provides a hearing protection scheme, offers regular audiometry, advice on hearing protection and hearing conservation.

7.22 Freelancers and self-employed people who regularly work with the same orchestra or management should ask to be included in the provision of regular health surveillance. See also Sound Advice Note 6 'Hearing health surveillance'.

Information, instruction and training

7.23 Engagers/contractors should consult with freelancers and self-employed people when conducting noise risk assessments and ensure they are provided with any significant findings of their risk assessments.

7.24 Engagers/contractors should provide freelancers and self-employed people with health and safety instructions including, for example, on how to use acoustic screens and personal hearing protection. All freelancers should follow the health and safety instructions provided by their engager/contractor and discuss the instructions if they appear unreasonable. Acoustic screens should only be used in accordance with the instructions of the engager/contractor (see Acoustics screens in Sound Advice Note 12 'Orchestras').

7.25 Freelancers and self-employed people who regularly work for the same management, orchestra or client should receive training in the use of all equipment provided to manage the risk to hearing (including screens and personal hearing protection) unless they already have such training.

7.26 Freelance musicians or self-employed workers engaging 'deps' or substitutes should ensure that the risks and control measures in place are communicated to them.

7.27 Freelancers and self-employed people are advised also to look at Sound Advice Note 4 'Noise-control measures and training'

7.28 Each engager/contractor has a duty to manage noise exposure. However, full co-operation between engagers/contractors and freelance musicians or other self-employed people is necessary to meet the requirements of the Noise Regulations. It is recognised by industry groups that a scheme to help freelancers manage their exposures and exchange information would be beneficial. To be successful this requires input from both engagers/contractors and the freelancers or other self-employed people involved. One way of helping freelancers to manage their noise exposure is to use a 'Hearing Passport' scheme.

The Musicians Hearing Passport

The purpose of the Musicians Hearing Passport is to:

  • increase awareness of the risk of hearing damage;
  • promote the provision of health surveillance among freelancers;
  • reduce the risk of hearing damage;
  • promote the use of hearing protection when necessary; and
  • ensure that hearing protection is used properly.

The Musicians Hearing Passport includes details of certified training and health surveillance undertaken by the freelancer.

Freelancers agree to:

  • enrol for health surveillance.
  • undertake training in the proper use of hearing protection and understanding the risk of hearing damage.
  • keep their own records of their estimated daily/weekly exposure.
  • make their own calculations to assess their likely personal overall exposure using the data supplied by either the engager/contractor, other collated data sources and/or their own personal records (using the HSE points calculator system available on

Engagers/Contractors agree to:

  • supply data on typical exposure levels based on previous experience and assessments.
  • provide information on the expected noise dose from the event, especially when the freelancer has been engaged to perform a specific repertoire. (It is suggested that the venue owners and engagers/contractors consider installing recording noise meters in their venues to help generate a databank of typical noise levels to enable information to be provided to freelancers).
  • ensure that freelancers have access to any noise policies affecting their engagement.

Visit or telephone 020 7323 2076 for more information.


For a more detailed explanation of terms see Useful information and glossary.

Engager/contractors: In the entertainment industry employers are often known as engagers or contractors. Other terms used which may or may not imply employment, include producers, promoters, managers and fixers.

Freelancer: Someone who is not permanently employed fulltime by any one employer. A freelancer may go through periods of self-employment or be employed by more than one employer.

Health surveillance: For the purposes of this document, ongoing assessment of the state of aural health of an employee as related to exposure to noise.

Musicians Hearing Services (MHS): An organisation set up to look after musicians' hearing. They will assess hearing, give advice on hearing conservation and supply custom-moulded musicians' hearing protection. They have a longstanding relationship with the music industry and offer a service not only to musicians but to all performers. Tel: 020 7323 2076 or

Musicians Union: 60-62 Clapham Road, London SW9 0JJ. 020 582 5566

Noise exposure: 'The noise dose' which can be calculated takes account of the actual volume of sound and how long it continues. Noise exposure is not the same as a sound level, which is the level of noise measured at a particular moment.

Noise limiters: Sometimes known as volume regulatory device (VRD), controls noise exposure from amplified music. Modern noise limiters can be fitted with anti-tamper relays connected to external switches to improve system security.

VRD: Volume regulatory device (see noise limiter).


  • Protect your hearing or lose it!
    Pocket card INDG363(rev1) HSE Books 2005 (single copy free or priced packs of 25 ISBN 978 0 7176 6166 4

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