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Health and Safety In Orchestras

For those of you returning to work in orchestras, you need to be sure your employer or engager is offering you a safe place to work. This may not be straightforward!

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By Morris Stemp Published: 17 September 2021 | 4:35 PM

The MU does understand why mitigations that have been in place for some time now are both uncomfortable for some and artistically challenging. We all want a return to ‘normal’ of course.

However, we have been alarmed to hear of cases of players turning up for work without any distancing, sharing stands etc without any consultation, or any reason given as to why that is now deemed safe. Worse still, players being asked if they want to sit closer together or not, particularly in a freelance setting.

There always needs to be a Risk Assessment which must underpin any changes to the approach to H&S in the workplace, regarding proposed changes to distancing on stage particularly.

Mitigations are needed to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19

It is enshrined in the H&S legislation that an employer must minimise a risk if it cannot be eliminated completely. 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 quite reliable, however Lateral Flow Tests much less so, both in general detection of the virus in the individual and dependant also on the make of test, and how the test was administered. Whilst false positives are not common, false negatives are more so. This is why LFT’s are not considered an appropriate mitigation but more of a useful and helpful indicator.

If it is possible to space players out on separate stands, it would seem that with rates of infection very high once more in society and advice from the scientific advisory community not to rely solely on vaccines, suitable distancing would continue to be an appropriate mitigation.

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 must be viewed on its own merits and each H&S change must be underpinned by the Risk Assessment behind the change.

Distancing remains as important now as it it did six-months ago

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 an employer.

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. 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. If someone feels that they may be put at a greater risk to health than is necessary in their working environment, they should remain available to work but not enter a potentially unsafe environment until it is agreeably safe to do so.

The UK’s orchestral sector and its players have shown great resilience and adaptability over the course of the last eighteen months and have also shown that orchestras can keep working during a pandemic and do so safely. Let’s keep that going.

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