In a Which? survey of shoppers’ ratings of supermarkets, Waitrose came top, followed by Marks and Spencer, Aldi and Lidl (excluding the on-line shopping service that Iceland offers.) All these chains have their differing virtues of course but all have one thing in common: they are free of piped music. Coincidence? Of course not!
Lidl, the famously discounted supermarket chain, has experimented with piped music in a few branches recently. Finding that it was not proving popular, they have stopped it and promised to keep their branches muzac-free in future. Their sage decision was encouraged by the many letters of protest they received from Pipedowners. And their sales and profits continue to grow – the latter by 9.4%. Proof that giving up piped music can boost profits and that protests can influence shops!
Meanwhile Waterstones, the chain of bookshops, has returned to profit, making £9.8m profit in the year to April 2016 compared to a loss of £4.5m the previous year. Waterstones has been quietly but steadily phasing out piped music from its branches. Yet further proof that giving up piped music helps boost profits!
Moral: protest can and does work!
Johanna Taylor of Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID) writes about its current campaign to make restaurants, cafés and pubs more accessible to people who find background noise and music a problem. ‘Our Speak Easy campaign is asking venues to take noise off the menu. We launched in July 2016 with a research report and a guide advising the industry on how to improve acoustics. Unsurprisingly, we found that eight out of 10 people have left an establishment early because it was too noisy. We’ve now launched a campaign pack to help diners to speak out. The pack includes discreet materials to hand over to staff or leave with the bill. For the adventurous, it includes a thumb prop that customers can use to give venues the thumbs up or thumbs down on social media.’ Find out more about the campaign and order a pack at www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/SpeakEasy
The Good Pub Guide, long the definitive guide to pubs up and down the UK, is calling for a ban on piped music in pubs in its new 2017 edition. It declares that ‘piped music, canned music, muzak, lift music, airport music – call it what you will, it’s there and our readers loathe it in any shape or form. It enlists bitter complaints from our readers and has done so ever since we started the Guide 35 years ago. It’s such an issue that we have always asked every main entry pub since 1983 whether or not they have it, and then clearly state this in each review.’
This seasonal good news should encourage all pubs to consider removing piped music if they currently have it. And it should encourage pub-goers to buy the latest edition of the guide. This has always been excellent. Now it is more useful than ever.
The Co-op’s policy of playing piped music in almost all its branches has attracted more criticism than any other supermarket chain – with good reason. It is often the only supermarket available in some areas, especially for people unable or unwilling to drive long distances. It has also been the most obdurate of the supermarket chains in dismissing protests – automatic dismissals that undermine its claims to be an ethical business.
Recent reports from places as distant as Guernsey and Scotland suggest that its attitudes might be changing, however. So now is the time to write to its CEO Mr Richard Pennycook, urging him to follow the example of M&S and stop the music!
His email address is email@example.com
Silencity New York is, as its name suggests, a New York-based campaigning website concerned about noise in all its aspects.
Its website https://www.silencity.com/ has interesting articles with some very useful links.
Further publicity and inquiries from the francophone world (Switzerland and Québec as well as France) have led to contacts there. Richard Darbéra, Président du Bucodes-SurdiFrance, Bureau de Coordination des associations de Devenus Sourds et malentendants (the French equivalent of Action on Hearing Loss), is writing about the problems of piped music and would like to hear from anyone interested. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.surdifrance.org/
And Anna Lietti, a journalist for the Swiss magazine L’Hebdo, is writing a piece about piped music. Contact her Anna Lietti email@example.com
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’ambiance) 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 threaten the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 360 million people already have moderate/profound hearing loss with another 1.1 billion people at risk. In the UK 11 million people have some form of hearing loss. This proportion could rise to one in five by 2035.
It has long been known that noise exposure during work can cause hearing loss. There is no mandated safe noise exposure for the public. 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 may be 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 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 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. They 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 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.