Work conditions are a sensitive topic among professional orchestra musicians and orchestra managers. While official health and safety directives define and prescribe the minimum requirements, specialist health professionals point out that few, if any, institutions currently fulfil all the standards. Air conditioning and temperature, space, noise and lighting are the common points of contention.

Healthy work place?
Healthy workplace?

In Germany, guidelines on the thermal environment define the range of 20 to 26°C as the suitable room temperature; from 30°C, actions to reduce temperatures must be taken, above 35°C work must cease. Other issues addressed by the guidelines include minimum temperatures, drafts and humidity. Yet examples of deficiencies are plentiful: inadequate lighting and a small pit, dampness, a lack of rehearsal rooms and cramped backstage areas in many other locations. Renovations are often impeded by tight budgets or strict regulations on building conservation.

The Theatre Meiningen (Thuringia) offers one of the few shining examples of best practice: with orchestra members closely involved during a general building overhaul in 2010/11, the theatre now boasts ergonomic seating and dimmable spotlights in the (enlarged) pit, while air conditioning and acoustics have also been carefully readjusted.

Due to the nature of their profession, noise and noise protection are particularly relevant for musicians. Theatres, concert houses and orchestras in Europe are obliged to impliment the EU Hearing Directive 2003/10/EC. Already OHRIS-certified (Occupational Health- and Risk Management System, as recognised by the state of Bavaria), for example the Nuremberg Staatstheater has exemplary structures in place addressing occupational health issues. Even so, the EU Hearing Directive is turning out to be a challenge, as too literal an implementation would impair artistic standards and negatively affect audience experience. A balance has to be found between health and safety requirements and the often subjective perception of music.