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Home » Breakthrough in fight against maddening beep in ear: hospitality industry ‘finally’ joins crucial consultations.

Breakthrough in fight against maddening beep in ear: hospitality industry ‘finally’ joins crucial consultations.

AAT Website - AD Art 31 (NL) 02

Pubs and nightclubs are ‘finally’ joining a team trying to prevent hearing damage in visitors after nine years of opposition. They reach an agreement on this with State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen (Public Health) on Wednesday. Specialists see this as an important step to stem the dreaded flood of tinnitus patients. “Now we are finally all together,” jubilates ENT doctor Dennis Kox.

Recognizable for party animals: an irritating beep in your ear after a night of blaring along at a village pub. Often harmless and it quickly recedes. In some cases it lasts for weeks or sometimes months; an obvious sign of hearing damage. Sometimes the squeak never disappears, which is called tinnitus. Pop venues, festivals, cinemas and gyms have been working together since 2014 to minimize the risk of this serious form of hearing damage. And with success. In few countries is the earplug now as “sexy” as it is in the Netherlands.

Of course: there is always room for improvement. Therefore, the covenant continues to renew itself every few years. For a long time, however, this was done without an important body: Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (KHN). The industry association was not waiting for additional regulations and feared that participation would be costly.

After an urgent call from the House of Representatives, followed by a series of stories on this site, KHN decided to join after all. “We now feel that there is more room to think along as an industry in concrete terms as well and have written a plan of action that looks at a phased approach, so that entrepreneurs also have time to respond to this,” says KHN president Marijke Vuik.

And they get that time. The plan is for clubs and nightclubs to be taken in hand in 2024 and 2025. Not until 2026 will pubs have their turn. “This includes looking at noise levels, noise measurements, hearing protection, visitor education, employee skill development and knowledge and research,” Vuik says. What this will mean in concrete terms is not yet certain. Knowledge center VeiligheidNL, one of the covenant partners, expects even more prominent messages for wearing earplugs in pubs. Think billboards or posters on the front wall, or in the restroom.

Another idea is to put more vending machines in catering establishments where you can get earplugs. In addition, employees behind the bar are likely to receive better education about hearing damage thanks to input from other covenant partners. “We are also going to look at how we can take noise measurements in the easiest way possible, which will give us a better idea of noise levels,” said Safety-NL director Martijntje Bakker. This should also eventually lead to a better, more beautiful, but above all safer sound: a win-win situation for all parties.

Within the covenant, great joy prevails with the long-awaited arrival of the hospitality industry. “By participating, the hospitality industry shows commitment to protecting both guests and employees from permanent hearing damage. They are committed to a graduated approach to give operators time to adapt, with the goal of creating a workable, feasible and affordable system,” says Berend Schans, director of the VNPF, one of the covenant’s catalysts. “It is nice that the message is and will be seen more and more widely in society. Our visitors move everywhere.”

Henri Marres, president of the national ENT association, spoke critically of the so-called passive role of the hospitality industry last year. He is over the moon that they came to repentance after several frantic attempts. “We now hope that the hospitality venues take immediate action; the easiest thing to do is to keep an eye on the volume control and alert their visitors to the need to use hearing protection,” Marres said.

In Amsterdam, they are going to start working on that soon. The municipality will start a pilot in nightclubs to measure the sound level of music continuously: rarely seen in the Netherlands. They take the example of the Belgian city of Leuven; there, permanent sound monitoring is being installed in discos, with real-time insight for the DJ, manager, enforcement and public. Amsterdam clubs will not be required to install them, but the offer will come to participate in this without obligation.

The question now remains: what can pub goers expect in the long run? Will every café soon be safe from our ears? No, warns ENT doctor Dennis Kox. “The tricky thing about the hospitality industry is that it is hugely fragmented. Not every pub is a member of KHN. The question is whether a local party barn cares. But the signal alone is incredibly important and is going to have a huge impact. Now we are finally all together.”

For patient organization Hoormij-NVVS, just participating in the covenant is not enough. “Even at the 103 db standard, people are at risk of hearing damage, so we continue to argue for lowering the standard, a legal obligation.” Van Ooijen just does not see that legal obligation. According to the State Secretary, legislation is expensive and supervision of loud noise is difficult to implement. With this he ignored the advice of the Health Council this summer.

“I am happy that we managed to find cooperation again with so many parties. Extra special is that now hospitality and stage technicians from even more venues are on board. This makes our reach much greater. We are working toward a future with responsible sound levels in all places with amplified music. And of course, we continue to point out the use of earplugs with music filter to protect your hearing, because it’s really super important for everyone to always bring and use earplugs if you’re going to a concert, for example. With the agreements in this covenant, health gains and progress will be made in preventing hearing damage in an awful lot of places with amplified music.”

[AD – Sebastiaan Quekel – 06 December 2023]