Sound Advice Note 8

Designs, layout and arrangment for pubs, clubs, studios and indoor live music events

This is the full text of the Sound Advice Working Group recommendations for venue owners/operators, designers and builders who work in the music and entertainment industry. It may help you manage your personal exposure to noise.


8.1 Room size, design and building materials can all have a significant effect on the sound levels within a space. Other factors include the range and style of music (particularly rock and pop) and the number of performers, and any other performance noise sources (for example, pyrotechnics or cannons).


8.2 Architects/designers and builders should incorporate design features that help to promote the performance of music under the best possible conditions and in compliance with the Noise Regulations.

8.3 Installing in-built monitors and other equipment can help venue owners/operators to monitor and maintain reduced noise-exposure levels.

8.4 Architects/designers and owners/operators proposing new buildings or major refurbishments are strongly recommended to consult a competent acoustician before undertaking any major work. Do not redecorate existing acoustic treatments as this may reduce their effectiveness considerably.

8.5 Set designers should consider noise levels alongside other health and safety issues. They should carefully consider the effect the materials they use will have on the noise levels experienced by performers on stage. For example, hard, reflective surfaces might unnecessarily increase sound levels experienced on stage. Conversely, soft, damping or absorptive materials might reduce sound levels.

Control measures

8.6 Where problems are known to exist, the venue owner/operator should consider making arrangements for changes to the layout or improvements to the building to help reduce noise exposure levels. This might be as simple as separating the bar from the performance area by a door or introducing carpeting and absorbent materials such as drapes at the back of the stage.

Case study

A small nightclub (250 occupancy) playing mainly rock music all night most nights faced the need to improve so that it could continue to operate as a live music venue. However, after taking advice the owner was reassured to find that there were simple and reasonably practicable solutions which could be made to reduce risks from noise including:

  • The small triangular stage was moved from a corner and rebuilt as a slightly larger rectangle against a side wall.
  • Sound-absorbent panels were fixed to the walls and ceiling around the stage and others were mounted elsewhere in the room.
  • The monitor speakers on stage were lifted off the floor and directed towards the musicians.
  • A new loudspeaker system was installed with four speakers mounted over the audience, which distributed the sound more evenly.
  • Acoustic screens were provided around the drums.
  • The house technician was trained in sound-level-measuring techniques.
  • The bar was moved from the music area into a different room.

Noise measurements showed a significant reduction. Musicians, staff and audience were asked for their reactions to the changes and they were all very positive.

Source: Prevention of risks from occupational noise in practice European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

Noise exposure policy

8.7 In many premises the venue operator may have the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the Noise Regulations and if so will need to exercise control over the noise levels from, for example, both the resident DJs and the visiting DJs and bands who may be under the control of an external promoter. Venue operators are advised to develop a written noise exposure policy. This should include as appropriate:

  • a description of the control measures designed to protect workers, including casual workers and musicians. Venue operators should ensure that any actions taken to comply with duties they may have under environmental noise legislation do not have an adverse effect upon controls to manage workplace exposure or vice versa;
  • provision and use of hearing protection, whether it is compulsory, and where it is available from;
  • the recommended and maximum permitted noise levels (amplifier volume settings) and whether noise limiters are installed;
  • any special advice or requirements, for example for DJs;
  • the positions of any agreed noise measurement reference positions. See Sound Advice Note 3 Noise risk assessment and planning', Sound Advice 10 'Rock and pop', Sound Advice 11 'Pubs and clubs', and Sound Advice 12 'Orchestras';
  • use of house equipment, such as amplifiers and speakers, whether it is provided and whether using the house system is compulsory;
  • communication of the risk to hearing from noise.

8.8 Venue operators should ensure that duty managers have effective control over all sound levels within the building, however they are made. This may be as simple as setting a comfortable playing level or could include using of noise meters and/or noise limiters if levels are consistently breached.

8.9 Venue operators, when hiring out the premises ('a four walls deal') to others to present an event, should:

  • ensure the venue is suitable for the particular requirements of the event to be performed in terms of the scale of both the stage and auditorium and, where appropriate, the orchestra pit;
  • ask to see the noise risk assessment (along with the risk assessment for the event);
  • provide the hirer with the details of the venue's noise exposure policy;
  • provide the hirer with any relevant information on noise control, for example any previous risk assessments.

8.10 Venue operators who are engaging people to present an event in their premises should also do the following to minimise the exposure of performers and other workers to high noise levels:

  • ensure the stage setting(s) of the event are appropriate;
  • ensure the positioning of performers is appropriate in relation to other artists and workers in the same area;
  • if amplified sound is used, ensure appropriate control measures are implemented.

Cost-effective solutions for smaller venues

8.11 Venue operators should not be deterred from carrying out simple noise controls as simple solutions can often be very effective:

  • Ensure the band is in a suitable location facing the majority of the audience and preferably not the bar or other work areas.
  • Locate the band behind the main loudspeakers.
  • Make sure the loudspeakers are facing the right way, especially instruments such as guitar combos (loudspeaker/amplifiers), to ensure other workers are not unnecessarily exposed to loud music. Angling a guitar or bass combo or elevating it on a flight case means each player can hear what is necessary without putting extra sound energy into the room. Helping the band hear what they are doing often means they can play at reduced volume.
  • Consider whether the loudspeakers can be located to avoid excessive volume for the staff (and for the public close by). Mount the speakers up high. Can the loudspeakers be wall-mounted? Can stands be used to elevate them?
  • What can be done to eliminate reverberation and reflected sound? Hard and flat surfaces reflect sound and make for a loud and confusing listening environment, so look for ways to cover walls and break up surfaces. For example can drapes be put across the wall behind the band when they are playing or a carpet placed on the stage floor? And don't forget the roof - ceiling tiles can be highly effective. Make sure, however, that the materials used do not create a fire hazard.
  • Soundproofing should be considered for doors, windows and other 'leaky' areas - especially if it prevents spill into otherwise quiet areas. Beware, however, the use of improvised materials, which can be ineffective and could present other risks.
  • When setting up for a rehearsal or performance in a venue that does not have a specific fixed stage or performance area, try to reduce sound exposure levels for performers by considering the size of venue and the positioning of:
    • the performers;
    • the monitors;
    • the PA speakers;
    • other workers and the audience.

8.12 While it certainly isn't up to a venue operator to determine how the musicians play, it is worth ensuring that things like drapes, blankets and gaffer tape are on hand to dampen sound, for example from drum kits.

Case study

A venue owner engages live bands on five nights a week. After consultation with health and safety representatives, he arranged for some noise measurements to be made. With a reference position 5 m away from the loudspeakers, a level of 103 dB was measured. It was clear that the staff were being exposed to excessive noise.

A number of minor architectural changes were made:

  • Changed location of the stage.
  • Provided loudspeakers directly above the dance floor.
  • Put acoustic absorption material on the ceiling and upper part of the walls opposite the stage and on the wall behind the bar.
  • Fitted an acoustic screen to the end of the bar nearest the stage.
  • Replaced doors to kitchen, office and foyer with acoustic doors.
  • Some management changes were made.
  • Bands were limited to a maximum of 103 dB.
  • Job rotation for glass collectors.

The levels of exposure are below.

Before LEP,d dB After LEP,d dB
Bar staff 92 86
Glass collector 94 88
Door staff 91 84
Reference point 103 100

The venue owner is providing hearing protection for all staff and requires bar staff and glass collectors to use it. He is developing plans for further noise reduction including a review of the policy on music levels.

Figures show the changes made.

Case study image before changes were made

Before changes were made

Case study image after changes were made

After changes were made

Case study

A company with several venues across the country recently reviewed the noise content of its occupational health policy and produced a comprehensive package pulling together aspects of company documentation, a standardised noise assessment procedure and appropriate training.

Company documentation includes a reassessment of safe working practices and procedures. Section 1 covers the basic legal requirements and types of different activities carried out which could produce loud noise. Section 2 details how the noise assessments are carried out by measuring noise levels in identified areas and indicating exposure values for people working in those areas, including the time taken to reach the lower and upper exposure action values. This is used specifically for front-of-house employees where exposure is fairly uniform in defined areas, and not for exposure from specific pieces of equipment used in close proximity to an individual. The existing precautions are then itemised and an action plan drawn up, with immediate, medium and long-term action for each venue.

Immediate actions include the rotation of staff, preventing unnecessary entry to areas and use of personal hearing protection. The medium-term action in one venue includes the use of shielding screens, while a longer-term proposal is to install acoustic panelling and other means to reduce reflected sound pressure levels. The company has several venues so it can make direct comparisons between the physical structure of their venues as well as the different type of acts. Good practice in one venue can be used elsewhere.

When considering personal hearing protection, the appropriate frequency analysis (see paragraph 13 in Sound Advice Note 1 'Introduction and hearing damage') and the need for communication are assessed as part of the selection process. All employees are being given an information pack which explains the different types of hearing damage that can occur, different types of hearing protection, the importance of wearing hearing protection and how to look after it.


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

Exposure action values (EAV):Levels of exposure to noise at which certain actions are required (see Useful information and glossary.

Frequency analysis: The breakdown of sound into discrete component frequencies, measured in Hertz and usually grouped in bands or octaves. Appropriate for selecting suitable hearing protection and designing acoustic control measures.

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 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.

Noise measurements: Decibels (dB) are used for measuring noise. A-weighting is used to approximate to the frequency responses of the human ear. C-weighting is used to measure peak, impact or explosive noise.

PA: Public address system. Sometimes called a 'Tannoy'. Often used to refer to any loudspeaker transmitting messages rather than music.

Reference positions: Standard location, usually static, selected to enable monitoring of noise levels to be conducted by measurements.

VRD: Volume regulatory device, see noise limiter.


  • Control of noise in the music entertainment industry. Code of practice
    Worksafe Western Australia Commission 2003
  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 SI 2005 No 1643
    The Stationery Office 2005 ISBN 978 0 11 072984 8 (also available from
  • PControlling noise at work. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. Guidance on Regulations L108 (Second edition)
    HSE Books 2005 ISBN 978 0 7176 6164 0
  • The event safety guide: A guide to health, safety and welfare at music and similar events HSG195 (Second edition)
    HSE Books 1999 ISBN 978 0 7176 2453 9
  • Listen while you work: Hearing conservation for the arts for performers and other workers in art and entertainment
    Safety & Health in Arts Production & Entertainment (SHAPE), Canada 2001 ISBN 978 0 7726 4643 9
  • Noise at work: Guidance for employers on the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 Leaflet INDG362(rev1)
    HSE Books 2005 (single copy free or priced packs of 10 ISBN 978 0 7176 6165 7)
  • Noise levels and noise exposure of workers in pubs and clubs: A review of the literature
    RR026 HSE Books 2002 ISBN 978 0 7176 2571 0
  • Prevention of risks from occupational noise in practice
    European Agency for Safety and Health at Work 2005 ISBN 978 92 9191 153 0. Download from
  • 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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