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Ensuring Health and Safety of Orchestras with Lifted Government Restrictions

Now that social restrictions have ended, you still need to be sure your employer or engager is offering you a safe place to work.

Photo ofMorris Stemp
By Morris Stemp Published: 29 March 2022 | 5:10 PM Updated: 30 March 2022 | 3:48 PM
Back view of a woman playing violin reading sheet music, the background and rest of the orchestra are out of focus
The UK’s orchestral sector and its players have shown great resilience and adaptability over the course of the pandemic. Image credit: Shutterstock.

The MU understand well why mitigations that have been in place for some time were uncomfortable for some and artistically challenging. It’s not what players or the orchestras they play for want. We all want a return to ‘normal’ of course. But do we have it now?

Just because the Government has said that there is no longer a need for social distancing, does not mean that H&S in the workplace should be anything other than as good as it reasonably and practicably could be. That’s what the law demands of every employer or engager. The law hasn’t changed – work is not a social setting, despite our attempts to make it as sociable as possible.

Do you feel safe? You should do – if you don’t, you should raise your concerns immediately with any managers present, H&S reps on the ground or your MU Regional team.  Most UK orchestras have a H&S Rep, you can find out who this is on each of our orchestra pages. If you are interested in becoming a H&S Rep please contact us.

Mitigations are needed to reduce every risk, including exposure to Covid-19

It is enshrined in H&S legislation that an employer must minimise a risk if it cannot be eliminated completely. This is the same for noise, electrical safety, Covid 19 or any other risk.

The vaccine roll out has been very effective at suppressing the spread of the virus as well as reducing the risk of serious illness for those that are vaccinated. Though fully vaccinated people are still dying from the effects of catching the virus so whilst the virus is still at relatively high levels per 100k people, we must be mindful not to allow ourselves to be put potentially in harms way. If you feel that you are being put at a greater risk to health than is necessary in your working environment, you should remain available to work but not enter a potentially unsafe environment until it is agreeably safe to do so. That’s what the law says.

One difficult area, especially for Freelance players, is the different regimes in each orchestra to minimise these ongoing risks. They are all different because each has their own unique working landscape. A small orchestra playing in a big, well ventilated venue on a large stage using personal iPads for music will may not require LFT’s to be done daily or stipulate that masks should be worn when possible. Whereas a large orchestra playing in a pit with little air flow, having to sit relatively close to each other will have a different H&S requirement.

The main mitigations which help prevent people from exposure to the risk of catching Covid-19 and other viruses are:

  • sufficient distancing
  • ventilation
  • hygiene

These are assisted by other mitigations – for example the wearing of masks where practical, and indicators as to whether people have the virus before they attend work, which could be through detection of common symptoms of Covid-19 and tests.

PCR tests are no longer readily available and Lateral Flow Tests becoming harder and harder to source, though the MU are pushing to make sure the industry is able to safely deliver live and recorded music. This might mean making tests available in some form or other – dialogue on this is ongoing.

So if it is possible to space players out on separate stands, it would seem that with rates of infection still quite high in society and advice from the scientific advisory community not to rely solely on vaccines, suitable distancing would continue to be an appropriate mitigation. Or in everyday language – it’s still a good idea to spread out a bit if you can.

As above some orchestras have adopted different ways of working that do sit closer together than others, but they may well have a whole raft of measures in place that allow them that greater flexibility. Each workplace is viewed on its own merits and each H&S change must be underpinned by the Risk Assessment behind the change.

Whilst infection rates remain high, distancing and ventilation remain important

Please make sure you are in touch directly with your Regional MU Office, your MU H&S Rep, or MU Steward within the orchestra if you require any further information or have any concerns about a particular workplace that you don’t feel you can raise directly with them. We know not all members would be happy to voice their concerns directly to their employer and may prefer to do so through their Union with absolute anonymity.

Being vaccinated does not prevent infection from Covid-19 and doesn’t not stop someone carrying and transmitting the condition to others. It does, however, lessen the chances of being seriously ill or dying from Covid-19. That’s why distancing remains as important now as it did six-months or a year ago.

The UK’s orchestral sector and its players have shown great resilience and adaptability over the course of the pandemic and have also shown that orchestras can keep working as safely as practicable. We should continue to do that as well as we can.


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