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Professor Slominski playing piano

Health and Safety

Health and Safety Policy

The Linfield Department of Music is committed to providing a safe environment for music students, faculty and staff to raise awareness of musicians' health, and actively seeks to guard against injury and illness in the study and practice of music. Our accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), requires us to inform our constituents of health and safety issues, hazards and procedures inherent in practice, performance, teaching and listening both in general and as applicable to their specific specializations. This includes but is not limited to information regarding hearing, vocal and muscles health, injury prevention and the use, proper handling and operation of potentially dangerous materials, equipment and technology.

Each individual is personally responsible for avoiding risk and preventing injuries to themselves before, during and after study or employment at Linfield.

Many organizations now exist that are dedicated to helping musicians maintain and protect their health. NASM has collaborated with the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) to develop a number of useful documents concerning health for musicians. Below is information devoted to different aspects of Musicians' Health and Safety based on documents developed together by NASM and PAMA.

Specific safety issues

Hearing health

Hearing health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician. Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is generally preventable by avoiding overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time. The closer you are to the source of a sound, the greater the risk of damage to your hearing. Sounds over 85dB (your typical vacuum cleaner) in intensity pose the greatest risk to your hearing. The risk of hearing loss is based on a combination of sound loudness and duration.

Recommended maximum daily exposure times (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health - NIOSH) to sounds at or above 85 dB:

  • 85 dB (vacuum cleaner, mp3 player at 1/3 volume) - 8 hours
  • 90 dB (blender, hairdryer) - 2 hours
  • 94 dB (mp3 player at 1/2 volume) - 1 hour
  • 100 dB (mp3 player at full volume, lawnmower) - 15 minutes
  • 110 dB (rock concert, power tools) - 2 minutes
  • 120 dB (jet planes at take-off) - without ear protection, damage is almost immediate

When working in the Composers Studio, keep your monitoring levels low to protect your hearing and maintain your essential ability to notice detail. If your neighbor can hear the music from your headphones, or the music can be heard from outside of the studio door, then you are monitoring with too much volume. The studio’s Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter should be used during individual studio times and during concerts that feature amplified sound to ensure hearing health.

It is very important to understand that the hair cells in your inner ear cannot regenerate. Damage done to them is permanent. There is no way to repair or undo this damage.

Neuromusculoskeletal health

The neuromusculoskeletal system refers to the complete system of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and associated nerves and tissues that allow us to move, speak, and sing. This system also supports our body's structure. The "neuro" part of the term "neuromusculoskeletal" refers to our nervous system that coordinates the ways in which our bodies move and operate. The nervous system consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the hundreds of billions of nerves responsible for transmitting information from the brain to the rest of the body and back again in an endless cycle. Our nervous systems allow us to move, to sense and to act in both conscious and unconscious ways. We could not listen to, enjoy, sing or play music without these structures.

In fact, making any change in our approach to movement, particularly to the array of complex movements needed for the performance of music, means working closely with our nervous system so that any automatic, unconscious or poor habits may be replaced with healthy, constructive and coordinate movement choices.

Basic protection steps:

  • Gain information about the body that will help you move according to the body's design and structure. The parts of the human body most relevant to movement include the nervous system, the muscular system and the skeletal system. Muscles move our bones at joints. Our bony structure is responsible for weight delivery and contributes to the support we need to move with ease and efficiency. There is nothing inherent in the design of our bodies or our instruments that should cause discomfort, pain or injury.
  • Learn what behaviors or situations put your neuromusculoskeletal health at risk and refrain from these behaviors and situations.
  • Always warm up before you practice, rehearse or perform. It takes about 10 minutes before muscles are ready to fire at full capacity.
  • Monitor your practice to avoid strain and fatigue. This means taking breaks when needed, avoiding excessive repetition or practice time if you notice fatigue, strain or discomfort.
  • Use external support mechanisms when necessary such as neck straps, shoulder straps, proper bench or chair height.
  • For vocal health, be sure to drink plenty of water, at least eight glasses a day and limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Avoid smoking.
  • Be aware that some medications, such as allergy pills, may dry out your tissues. Be aware of side effects and consult your physician if you have questions.
  • Maintain good general health and functioning by getting adequate sleep, good nutrition and regular exercise.

Vocal health

Vocal health and understanding basic care of the voice are important for all musicians and essential to lifelong success for singers. Because practicing, rehearsing and performing music are physically demanding activities, musicians are susceptible to numerous vocal disorders, many of which are preventable and/or treatable.

Basic protection steps:

  • Sufficient warm-up time is important.
  • Begin warming up mid-range and then slowly work outward to vocal pitch extremes.
  • Good posture, adequate breath support and correct physical technique are essential.
  • Regular breaks during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical or vocal stress and strain.
  • It is important to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time that you will practice in a day.
  • Avoid sudden increases in practice times.
  • Know your voice and its limits and avoid overdoing it or misusing it.
  • Maintain healthy habits. Safeguard your physical and mental health.
  • Drink plenty of water in order to keep your vocal folds adequately lubricated. Limit your use of alcohol, and avoid smoking.
  • Day-to-day decisions can impact your vocal health, both now and in the future. Since vocal strain and a myriad of other injuries can occur in and out of school, you also need to learn more and take care of your own vocal health on a daily basis. Avoid shouting, screaming, or other strenuous vocal use.
  • If you are concerned about your personal vocal health, talk with a medical professional.
  • If you are concerned about your vocal health in relationship to your program of study, consult the appropriate contact person at your institution.

Mental health and stress management

As a student, you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, etc. Mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce one’s ability to participate in daily activities.

Linfield University is available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available in our Student Health, Wellness and Counseling Center.

Equipment safety

(Safe lifting and carrying techniques, adapted from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Safety Requirement for a Safe Workplace.)

Proper methods of lifting and handling protect against injury and make work easier. You need to "think" about what you are going to do before bending to pick up an object. Over time, safe lifting techniques should become a habit.

Basic protection steps for safe lifting and handling heavy music equipment or instruments:

  • Size up the load and check overall conditions. Don't attempt the lift by yourself if the load appears to be too heavy or awkward. Check that there is enough space for movement and that the footing is good. "Good housekeeping" ensures that you won't trip or stumble over an obstacle.
  • Make certain that your balance is good. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot beside and the other foot behind the object that is to be lifted.
  • Bend the knees; don't stoop. Keep the back straight, but not vertical. (Tucking in the chin straightens the back.)
  • Grip the load with the palms of your hands and your fingers. The palm grip is much more secure. Tuck in the chin again to make certain your back is straight before starting to lift.
  • Use your body weight to start the load moving, then lift by pushing up with the legs. This makes full use of the strongest set of muscles.
  • Keep the arms and elbows close to the body while lifting.
  • Carry the load close to the body. Don't twist your body while carrying the load. To change direction, shift your foot position and turn your whole body.
  • Watch where you are going!
  • To lower the object, bend the knees. Don't stoop. Make sure your hands and feet are clear when placing the load.

NASM Draft Advisory Documents

Basic information on neuromusculoskeletal and vocal health

Read the NASM Advisory Document

This basic toolkit contains information and resources compiled for the use of administrators, music faculty and staff, and music students.