Scotland: Welcomed sensible guidance on low level background music and sound in hospitality venues

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Covid Noise Limit for Hospitality venues

The Scottish Government, back on 14 August 2020, issued statutory guidance for the hospitality sector in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  As part of this guidance, it banned hospitality business from playing music as the risk of aerosol transmission of coronavirus may be increased if customers raised their voices to be heard over background noise.

However, the Scottish Beer & Pub Association[1] has called on ministers to repeal its ban as it said that some businesses have seen trade impacted by more than 20%.

The English government took a different approach and on 28 September 2020 introduced legislation which allowed hospitality businesses to playback music in venues if this is kept at or below 85 dB (A-weighted). However, this piece of legislation was hastily produced and introduced a lot of problems[2]. Whilst this legislation is still applicable in England, the Scottish Government updated its relevant guidance yesterday and has introduced new guidance which will be effective from tomorrow (Saturday 12 December 2020).

Following the introduction of the Scottish ban on music playback, an expert advisory group was established to look at how low-level background sound might be managed in a COVID safe manner that did not interfere with speech intelligibility or cause increased vocal effort.

The purpose of the new Scottish guidance is to prevent raised voices and or people leaning-in to be heard as a consequence of interference from background sound in hospitality premises.  It also sets out a risk assessment and practical advice appropriate to all hospitality settings.  Following this guidance will reduce the need for any incidences of compliance issues or the need for dispute resolution.

The new Scottish guidance wisely adopts a qualitative approach i.e., based on observation of what volume levels are safe for each premises, rather than a quantitative approach i.e., a blanket decibel ceiling, like in England.   This takes account of the varied environmental conditions in different premises.   As every hospitality premises is different a set limit would not produce a consistent result across all premises.

This method has been prepared to avoid any requirement for specialist measurement equipment.

The guidance provides a methodology to assist a hospitality operator with setting appropriate levels of background sound. Once this is set, the operators can try out having conversations at normal levels at tables in the venue before opening to ensure they can comfortably hear and be heard. Once customers are in the venue, the operator should watch and listen to make sure that they are not raising their voices or leaning closer together to hear and be heard, which may indicate that the background sound is too loud.

The Scottish Guidance Document is available here:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-tourism-and-hospitality-sector-guidance/pages/background-music-and-sound/

For any more information on this matter please contact teli.chinelis@finch-consulting.com

[1] https://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Article/2020/08/28/Can-Scottish-pubs-play-music

[2] https://www.finch-consulting.com/covid-noise-limit-for-hospitality-venues/