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It is the responsibility of the employer or engager to provide you with a safe environment when you work in their orchestra. If there are any doubts as to whether an environment is safe, it should be communicated to the employer/engager, any H&S Rep on the ground, an MU Steward or to an MU full-time Official through your Regional Office team.

The employer or engager must consult with the MU Safety reps

By law Health & Safety (H&S) reps in the orchestra should be involved from the outset of the risk assessment (RA) process feeding back ideas or suggestions to the employer as they formulate the RA and it should be a dynamic process as changing circumstances dictate. If you wish to raise a query or issue about your work in an orchestra and you don’t know who the MU Health & Safety rep is, contact your Regional Office in the first instance. Anyone working as an Extra or Deputy should be provided with health and safety guidance when accepting work, and if not should feel able to ask for it.

Ensuring Health and Safety of Orchestras with Lifted Government Restrictions

Morris Stemp, our Orchestras Official, explains that now social restrictions have ended, you still need to be sure your employer or engager is offering you a safe place to work. 

Read the blog

Covid-19 specific workplace Risk Assessments

The key elements of any Risk Assessment are to eliminate or reduce to a minimum any risk. Current workplace risk assessments must still deal with Covid-19 as a potential risk. To address the risk of catching Covid-19, measures include:

  • distancing / not sharing music stands as a mitigation where it is reasonably possible
  • a cleaning regime for the venue
  • not handling equipment or music, if possible
  • ventilation, which is a key factor in dictating how many people can be in the same room, for how long, how frequent air changes need to be
  • it should also include a workplace stress risk assessments.

Controlled distancing

Some engagers and employers are insisting that there are no longer rules around social distancing so musicians can be as close as any other time in history.

The MU have been at pains to point out that this does not change how they should approach Health and Safety in a general way. People playing their instruments are not there in a ‘social’ capacity, they are at work. So they must be provided with a space that is as safe as is reasonably practicable as detailed in Health and Safety legislation, underpinned by the Risk Assessment that should inform what happens on the ground.

This is particularly important for some musicians and singers because deep breathing / inhalation and concentrated time spent together create a unique environment. And remember, Covid-19 is transmitted via aerosol droplets floating in the air or larger droplets landing close by.

As safe as reasonably practicable is exactly that – if there are more measures that could be employed to make it a safer environment that are straightforward, it is incumbent on the employer or engager to do so. Some orchestras are sitting close together and sharing stands, yes. But what is the ventilation rate for the space that they occupy? Are they required to wear masks until seated? Are they required to wear masks (where possible) during rehearsal and performances? Are they doing regular Covid testing? If so, is it a PCR or Lateral Flow test? How many of those present had the vaccine? A thorough RA balances all these together to offer the best protection at any given time.

With infection rates higher now than most of the last 18 months and given that being double or triple jabbed does not mean that you will not die from Covid, it would seem a bit strange that if you have more room to keep people apart, that wouldn’t be considered to be an extremely important mitigation against catching it from someone. Along with the other things as listed above and below. Few people want to space further away from each other as that brings artistic challenges, but we must remember that artistic considerations do not override keeping people safe. This is so for any aspect of H&S including hearing.

So, if there is more space on the stage, using it for distancing is an easy way to make a safer environment were that to be utilised to the full. As safe as reasonably practicable, with this example safer for protection against catching a virus as well as safer for your hearing.

Key control measures to reduce the risks

  • stage or pit layouts should be devised in advance to ensure the proximity of all seating positions have been risk assessed:
    • the position of the musicians or singers in relation to each other (i.e. side-by-side, back-to-back, face-to-face, face-to-back)
    • the length of time spent together in sessions, rehearsals or performances
    • the ventilation of the spaces, studios or rooms
  • hand hygiene should be followed before and after handling equipment
  • musicians should be encouraged to wear a face covering where practicable. The employer or engager may choose to make face coverings mandatory for a particular session
  • consider the need for screens (e.g. behind soloists) to separate people where reasonably practical. Ensure the use of screens does not conflict with any other applicable requirements, for example the fire regulations where they must not impede an exit route, or with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 where the noise level could be unacceptably increased.

Ventilation

Focus should be on how to increase ventilation and air flow. The Risk Assessment should encompass many details including the cubic capacity of the areas being used, and the specific ventilation being used, flow rates, renewal rates etc. This critical factor requires a complete technical report signed off by a qualified person. There needs to an integrated mitigation approach which requires balance between different measures (e.g. ventilation and distancing). The HSE/CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) Covid-19 recommendations are 10 Lt/sec for normal activity and 20 Lt/sec for physical activity.

The employer / engager should record data regarding the ventilation systems of performance spaces on the Risk Assessment (e.g. air speed in vs air speed out vs studio sizes vs number of people) as well as whether the air is fresh or recycled, how it is filtered and where the used air goes afterwards. For venues that do not have mechanical ventilation systems (e.g. churches or town halls) record all arrangements made for the provision of fresh air on the Risk Assessment.

  • aim to use large open spaces with good fresh air ventilation e.g. open windows or doors. They must also consider how propping doors open may adversely affect security
  • ensure that a fresh air supply is consistently flowing through performance spaces. Fresh ventilation systems can operate as normal but recirculating air systems may require adjustments to increase fresh air flow
  • must consider the air change rates per hour for performance spaces in relation to their size and the number of people in occupation
  • must consider air flow direction of travel through performance spaces in relation to where musicians and singers are sitting for the duration of the activity
  • check that systems and filters are clean and are working as they were designed to be
  • must take humidity requirements for instruments into consideration e.g. strings, woodwind. Systems should be set to between 40-60% humidity
  • encourage staff to open windows in communal areas and corridors and if it is safe to do so

Hygiene and cleaning

  • seek assurance in advance that suitable cleaning arrangements have been made in terms of Covid-19, before staff and musicians arrive on site
  • ensure thorough professional cleaning of spaces is carried out between rehearsals / sessions if and when there is a change of personnel. Check the cleaning regime is working properly during working periods
  • musicians should keep all accessories, equipment, personal belongings together at their seat or place on stage and in a bag until they are required. No sharing of instruments or accessories, for example, mutes, valve oil, rosin, pencils, mallets
  • hand hygiene should be followed before and after handling equipment, music parts or pads
  • librarians must wash or sanitise their hands before handling music parts or pads.

Workplace stress

The current situation has potentially created a number of stressors or may exacerbate existing ones. Musicians may experience anxiety on returning to work, including performance stress. Workplace stress will be monitored and all arrangements for the alleviation of stress should be recorded on the Risk Assessment. In some cases, mental health issues will also be monitored, and processes followed where required, including possible referral to occupational health. Employees should be able to approach their manager with any concerns and reference wellbeing support.

Read more about workplace stress risk assessments.

NHS COVID Pass

The NHS COVID Pass lets you share your coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination records, or test Covid-19 status in a secure way. Use of the NHS COVID Pass is voluntary for individual organisations, and the Government has no plans to encourage employers to use the NHS COVID Pass with employees or freelance workers.

Read further Government guidance on using the NHS COVID Pass.

The MU do not support employer systems where you are required to prove your vaccination status in order to be engaged for or carry out work, and protected characteristics should not be discriminated against.

Everyone has a right to work in an environment where they feel safe. If, having read the above, you do not feel safe to undertake the recording session, or you have any questions, please contact your Regional Office.

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