In July Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) wrote to 70 restaurant groups, including chains such as Wagamama, Côte and Pizza Express, ‘highlighting the problem of excessive noise [caused by hard minimalist interiors and piped music], offering advice on how to reduce the volume.’ AHL has had no response at all. Clearly restaurant chains do not yet recognise this as a problem. Now AHL is developing a mobile phone app that will let diners ‘name and shame’ noisy restaurants and warn other dinners to keep away. This should be available next year. So should the rejigged Quiet Corners website. This will also be downloadable onto a mobile phone app, enabling people to choose quiet pubs, cafés, restaurants, hotels etc. At last the balance of power should swing back to customers who have had to endure decades of noise.
After recent publicity in the French media (AFP etc), Pipedown UK has been receiving many inquiries from France, where the problem of piped music (musique d’ambience) appears to be as bad as it is in Britain. Most inquirers wonder whether there is a Pipedown français and would like to join. At present there is no Pipedown français but there could be and should be. Pipedown UK can give advice, tips and encouragement, helping possible French members get in touch with each other. But it cannot start a French Pipedown itself.
A vous mesdames et messieurs!
An epidemic of man-made deafness may be threatening the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 360 million people worldwide already have moderate/profound hearing loss with another 1.1 billion people at risk. In the UK 11 million people- – one in six – have some form of hearing loss. This proportion could rise to one in five people by 2035.
It has long been known that noise exposure during work, for example among stonemasons and miners, can cause hearing loss. There is no mandated safe noise exposure for the public anywhere in the world. Dr. Daniel Fink, in a paper presented to the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting in Providence, RI (USA) on 14 June 2016, discussed the fact that 85 decibels (dBA), widely thought safe for the public, is an ‘industrial strength’ occupational noise exposure standard. (‘Normal’ conversation is around 60 dB while noise from a jet plane taking off 300m away is about 100 dB, or 16 times as loud – the scale is logarithmic, not arithmetic.)
Because little research has been done on noise and hearing loss in normal life, the work standard has been thought safe for the general public. This is almost certainly wrong for two reasons. First, 85 dBA exposure will cause hearing loss in at least 15% of workers exposed to this noise level during their working lives. Second, noise unlike other workplace pollutants, continues outside the workplace. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adjusted the 85 dBA occupational noise exposure level for the additional exposure time – 24 hours a day instead of 8 hours, 365 days a year instead of 240 days at work- to come up with 70 decibels (unweighted) average as the safe environmental noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss.
Dr. Fink writes: ‘Noise exposure…causes auditory damage. Hearing loss is not part of normal physiological aging. In quieter primitive societies, auditory acuity is preserved into old age.’ He draws useful analogies between tooth loss and hearing loss. Both used to be accepted as a ‘normal’ part of ageing, so that by their mid-60s many people were almost toothless. Today, thanks to better dental care most older people keep their teeth. Dentures work but natural teeth work better. Similarly, needing hearing aids in old age is not normal either. And hearing aids are no substitute for preserved hearing. Hearing aids do not correct hearing in the same way that glasses correct faulty vision, because hearing loss involves irreparable nerve and sensory organ damage in the inner ear.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention on 16 May 2016 recommended only 70 dB average noise exposure for the public with only one hour noise exposure at 85 dB. This recommendation, as it becomes widely known, should revolutionise overall attitudes towards noise. Noise is like secondhand tobacco smoke: not just a nuisance but a major health hazard causing hearing loss, tinnitus and many other health problems.
(A fuller version of this with supporting footnotes is available on request.)
Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID) has launched its Speak Easy Campaign, aiming to make it easier for people with or without hearing loss to talk in restaurants, pubs and cafés. After surveying 1,500 people with or without hearing loss, they found that 76% of respondents said they would visit restaurants, pubs and cafés more often if noise levels were lower, 80% said they have left a place early because of noise levels and 91% said ‘they would not return to a venue they considered too noisy’.
The charity is looking at many aspects of noise reduction. This includes making decors more sound absorbent. Today, due to the current fashion for ‘hard’ industrial style surfaces, the decor in many places reflects and increases noise rather than reducing it. Piped music remains much the biggest single source of needless and unwanted noise in most places (the hubbub of general conversation is after all a sign of a genuinely popular pub/café/restaurant.). Pipedown is collaborating with AHL on this campaign. So spread the word about their timely initiative https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/SpeakEasyReport
Elizabeth Hunter of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has just launched a local US chapter of Pipedown, and has held her first meeting. She welcomes support from across the USA and Canada, but especially in her region, as she stresses that she aims to focus on regional problems. Do contact her at email@example.com if you live nearby.
If you live anywhere near Colorado, contact Charles Wetherbee, the renowned violinist, who is thinking of starting a chapter of Pipedown in his part of the world. firstname.lastname@example.org
With the holiday season now starting, many people will glance at Trip Advisor to check up on a hotel or restaurant. If you have recently visited a place free of piped music – or conversely one polluted to the rafters with it – say so clearly and prominently on Trip Advisor. If enough people praise a place for not having piped music, or conversely criticise it for having it, this should encourage the managers concerned to go or to remain muzac-free. All power to the customer!
Click on the link below.
From Wednesday 1st June all branches of Marks and Spencer will be free of piped music, following a decision by its executive. ‘We’ve listened to customer feedback, and the licence to play music in all our stores has now been cancelled with effect from 1st June 2016′ said Gary Bragg. This decision, which will save Marks and Spencer money, is the result of years and years of determined campaigning by Pipedowners and other people, who have refused to be fobbed off with bland dismissals. Marks and Spencer remains the UK’s biggest chain store, a national institution. So this is a great day for all campaigners for freedom from piped music.
Millions of customers will be delighted by this news. So will thousands, probably tens of thousands, of people working in M&S who have had to tolerate non-stop music not of their choice all day for years. Congratulate the management, especially the new CEO Steve Rowe, by emailing M&S at email@example.com
Now we can shop in peace!
A new inner group of Pipedowners is being set up to campaign more vigorously. It aims to recruit a smallish number of members who have the time and energy to respond rapidly whenever alerted to a new issue, threat or opportunity. By emailing or tweeting concertedly, even small numbers of us can have a real impact. If you are interested in joining the Happy Few (and also a member), contact Pipedown at firstname.lastname@example.org All email addresses will be treated as confidential.
Steve Rowe has just become the new CEO of Marks and Spencer. He has marked his new approach by announcing that from 1st June all branches will be stopping their piped music. They have ‘listened to customer feedback’ and come to a sane decision. Congratulate him by writing to
email@example.com or try the chairman Robert Swannell firstname.lastname@example.org
The postal address is: Marks & Spencer Group plc, Waterside House, 35 North Wharf Road, LONDON W2 1NW
And congratulate ASDA, a notoriously muzac-polluted chain. It is experimenting with having one Quiet Hour per week (on Saturday) when all the music, televisions and even escalators will be turned off in one of their Manchester stores for the benefit of autistic customers. Urge them to extend the experiment to all their other stores and other times, and to consider making such quiet universal (though escalators do need to run.) The person to write to is Andy Clarke email@example.com
Susan Davis is hoping to start up a New Zealand Pipedown. It is very early days yet for the new group so please contact Pipedown UK firstname.lastname@example.org for her e-mail address if you live in – or often visit – New Zealand and would like to be involved. We can then send you her contact details.
And remember: Charles Wetherbee, the renowned violinist, is considering co-founding Pipedown USA. If you live in the USA or Canada and hate piped music, contact him email@example.com