Silence of the bands

Related tags Noise European parliament

A new European ruling restricting the level of noise could mean the end of live music in pubs. Jackie Annett examines the arguments for and...

A new European ruling restricting the level of noise could mean the end of live music in pubs. Jackie Annett examines the arguments for and against.

In a few years time we could be looking back fondly, reminiscing with friends over a glass of wine and asking ourselves: "Do you remember the good old days of live bands and karaoke in pubs?"

Unfortunately it's not a joke. Under a new European ruling, licensees will have to impose a maximum noise limit of 85 decibels to protect their staff's hearing from over exposure to loud noise.

Licensees fear this could mean the end of live bands and karaoke in pubs because these events often exceed that level. What's worse is that in the busiest of bars the buzz of customers talking could well exceed the set level of 85dbs too.

The only glimmer of hope that the trade can hang on to is that pubs will be given until 2007 to enforce the ruling. That's two years more than other workplaces which are expected to only have until 2005.

And thanks to industry campaigners, the law will also include a clause so noise levels can be calculated on a weekly average, meaning that a pub will be allowed to exceed the level some of the time.

However, it is still not clear how often this can happen.

Whereas the pub trade is dead set against the new regulations, the Trade Unions Congress said it is necessary to protect workers' hearing. So who's right?

For: Owen Tudor, TUC

Owen Tudor (pictured)​ works for the Trade Unions Congress on health and safety issues and noise risks. The union has pushed for the new laws because it says there is not enough being done to protect workers.

"People are still being affected by high levels of noise exposure. Some people are affected by noise levels lower than 80dbs so we have to draw a line somewhere, not at the lowest but not at the highest possible risk either," Mr Tudor said.

He added that the legislation may not be as bad as the industry fears. For example, a pub may be allowed to exceed the new 85db level one night a week. However, a licensee with live bands or loud music on every night of the week could find himself in trouble. But no-one will know until the code of conduct has been published.

"The simple test is if someone is stood at arm's length and you can't hear what they are saying then the environment is too loud," Mr Tudor said. "The law is pitched right now that these new levels have been brought in but we need to raise awareness and educate people on the harm that excessive noise can do. People are clearly confused on what they need to do, and we need to get it right. Part of the problem is that we don't think noise is as big a problem in the leisure industry, but it is. If the engineering industry can get it right, then so can pubs."

Against: Bob Cartwright, Six Continents

Six Continents Retail has a number of venues that rely on live music to draw customers in, notably the O'Neills chain. Bob Cartwright (pictured), director of communications at 6C, said despite working closely with European MPs and other members of the industry over the past year or so to try and stave off the legislation, he and his colleagues had been unsuccessful.

"I think any live music in pubs will exceed 85dbs," he said. "If it's a busy pub with background music and everybody is talking it will push 85dbs or even exceed this. What's worse is that we have to look at an individual's exposure to noise throughout the week.

"Many employees are part-time and could work somewhere else where they are exposed to loud noise as well. It's horrendously complicated. We're going to have to work out how to protect staff and how to make sure our customers enjoy themselves too.

"Whether this will mean making staff wear ear protectors or coming up with other solutions, we're not yet sure.

"But one thing's for certain - this is going to be very complex to implement, especially in the pub and leisure industry. We were pushing for an amendment so the leisure industry would be left out of the new regulations, but unfortunately these amendments didn't materialise.

"We're now sitting down with the government and looking at publishing a code of conduct, but it is very complicated."

The story so far:

  • January 2002:​ representatives from the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) met to discuss European noise reduction proposals. New recommendations from MEPs will mean lower noise limits in pubs and could lead to music-free pubs.
  • February 2002:​ Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries wrote to all MPs and MEPs warning them there were still "major problems" with the noise directive. The BBPA wrote to Danish MEP Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was pushing through the proposals, to protest at European proposals to limit noise levels in pubs.
  • March 2002:​ the trade celebrated after MEPs voted to amend the noise proposals, originally aimed at cutting noise in factories, to exclude music in pubs.
  • September 2002:​ the European Council and the European Parliament failed to agree to the amendment to exclude pubs from its noise proposals.
  • October 2002:​ noise proposals agreed without amendment for the pub trade.

Related topics Licensing law

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more