Defendant: 12th man
January 20, 2014 11:15 AM   Subscribe

How do CenturyLink Field and the Seattle Seahawks NFL team not get crushed by a workplace safety lawsuit?

With sound levels well above safe limits for extended periods of time, how do they get away with exposing employees to that?

The way I understand it, the employer is required to provide a reasonably safe place to work. Just giving away earplugs wouldn't cut it - that's a last resort after engineering and administrative controls have failed.

It doesn't seem to me like the employer here has made any attempt at engineering controls. In fact, it seems the opposite - they've intentionally engineered the stadium to be louder right down to the materials the seats are made out of. It also seems like the Seahawks organization actively encourages the noise, even if technically, they aren't the ones making it.

Looking for insight from someone in the industry (sports, rock shows, etc.) or someone with employment safety law into what administrative mitigation strategies they might use and how they get away with this legally. It can't be just, "well, you know what you're signing up for if you want to work here."

[Note: This is purely hypothetical/curiosity, I promise. I don't work there or know anyone who does.]
posted by ctmf to Law & Government (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just giving away earplugs wouldn't cut it

Why not? This is what they do for people who work in concert venues.
posted by spaltavian at 11:46 AM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

those are some exceptionally well-paid employees there, and loud stadium noise is part of their deal. you may as well ask, why don't american soldiers in afghanistan get to sue for an unsafe workplace? when you sue the seahawks, your case will be undercut by the fact that thousands of your fellow citizens voluntarily paid hundreds of dollars to be there.
posted by bruce at 11:49 AM on January 20, 2014

they didn't design it to make it louder, necessarily. this article goes into it better :

Niemuth [the architect], however, did not anticipate the sound effects of the curved canopies. He calls this result a “happy accident."

the stuff about some of seating and the closeness was to replicate a college atmosphere, where noise isn't really the top thing, it's more about the attitude of the crowd. noise certainly plays a part, but if they wanted to make the absolutely loudest stadium possible, there are a number of things they could have done that they didn't.
posted by nadawi at 11:53 AM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dad was a souvenir vendor at a few different major stadiums/arenas. He worked everything from football games to concerts walking up and down the stands carrying heavy equipment.

Most of the people who worked the events were really into it -- there was this weird subculture of behind-the-scenes folks who all knew each other. Even though they were very low on the totem pole, there was definitely a sense of privilege to be present for all the events. So aside from the fact that there was probably some sort of waiver buried deep in the employee handbook, there were not a lot of disgruntled workers who would be inclined to sue in the first place.
posted by hamsterdam at 12:13 PM on January 20, 2014

Response by poster: I guess I should clarify what I'm asking about: does the employer make any attempt to mitigate the safety concern other than handing out earplugs and then considering that enough? Do they limit an employee's time 'out there' to short periods? Provide training? Audiograms? Did they consider building sound shields around stationary work locations, where possible?

PPE is a good thing, but at least where I work, not good enough. I can't just say, hey, if you want to work around this rotating machinery, well, it's part of the deal you have to watch your fingers. I can't just make a giant cloud of sandblasting debris and tell everyone to wear a respirator, I have to make an attempt to contain the blast area to the minimum and only let trained people in the area.
posted by ctmf at 12:34 PM on January 20, 2014

OP, you are dramatically overstating the hazard. one of the four elements of traditional negligence is "duty of care". no american court or legislature has ever imposed, or is likely to impose, a duty of care on sports venues to protect players, vendors and fans from loud noise.
posted by bruce at 1:43 PM on January 20, 2014

I go to games/matches at Century Link every year. And almost all of the ushers and staff wear earplugs, just those little foam ones. (I can't speak for the workers who are actually on the field/pitch).

FWIW, most of the sports played at Century Link are Sounders Matches, and for that, only the lower bowl is open. And even then, there's really only a few sections (121, 122, 123, the 'Brougham End'), where it's completely noisy all the time. And that noise is singing, not straight shouting at the top of their lungs. So it very rarely gets to the volume that Seahawks games get to.

A lot of the staff work both sports seasons (where there's rarely overlap), and they're well prepared for noisy games. And yes, they really love it. Plus the noise inside the stadium itself, e.g. the lobby, is much, much quieter. The sound is solely projected onto the field/pitch.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:36 PM on January 20, 2014

Seattle set a record for noise at 137 decibels last year. That's pretty well immediate hearing damage territory and in industry you would need to wear both ear plugs ~30db and ear muffs ~25db if you were going to be exposed to that level for any significant period of time to drop you below the 80db limit.

While some industries may be able to use administrative measures to curb sound exposure many are forced to rely on plugs and muffs to limit exposure and that would seem to be the case for stadium noise. You can't use conventional methods to reduce noise exposure like compartmentalization (because of sight lines) or exposure time shifting (workers need to be there when the game is happening).

I'm not super familiar with how OHSA works but I think one of the retarding factors on a crack down is the fact that many of the workers exposed like vendors aren't actually stadium employees and are instead contractors. But it is surprising that workers like referees and cheer leaders who are directly employed by either the teams or the NFL wouldn't be subject to noise control, mitigation and protection measures as the risk is obvious, documented and well known. One of the things keeping this issue off the OHSA radar is noise exposure limits are based on an eight hour day and sporting events rarely last more than half that which allows the eight hour average to fall below regulated levels.

For example as an electrician if I tending to a generator or something and was exposed to that kind of noise without protection my employer would certainly be sanctioned and I can't see that avoided because I happened to be working in a stadium at the time.

Having said all that it is possible that steps are being taken that aren't obvious. Moulded ear plugs especially are pretty unobtrusive and wouldn't be something the average person would notice in use.
posted by Mitheral at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2014

It can't be just, "well, you know what you're signing up for if you want to work here."

Why not?

Noise is an integral part of the sport and if you're working in any sort of capacity at the stadium, so is communication.

But also keep in mind that the decibel levels you're reading about are marketing numbers, not science. more here.
posted by toomuchpete at 3:38 PM on January 20, 2014

> I can't speak for the workers who are actually on the field/pitch

I saw on TV that some of the people down on the sidelines had earplugs.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on January 20, 2014

Aside from the employees, I am truly amazed by how many fans are willing to expose themselves to unsafe sound levels. The only conclusion I can draw is that people do not understand the risk.

I refer to the Noise Induced Hearing Loss page for safe exposure times. It's clear to me that even if the noise in a stadium isn't 137db, it's much higher than the 90db that would be safe for exposure up to 2 hours.

Concerts, clubs, stadiums -- is everyone who goes in these places without hearing protection (employee or patron) making a conscious decision to endure damaging levels of sound?
posted by reeddavid at 7:18 PM on January 20, 2014

Probably - but it's different from a concert as the noise isn't a constant. It ebbs and flows. Gridiron football games are *long*, and when the television audience sees a commercial break, the stadium audience is usually sitting/standing/milling around. So it's not like they're cheering all the time.

FWIW, there are groups of people who hand out free foam earplugs before Seahawks games. I don't know how many people take them. I do tend to wear earplugs at Sounders matches sometimes, but I also have weird hearing issues, and sometimes the loudness is overstimulating.

Once I actually was on the field before a Sounders match, when the entire audience was cheering. (It was a pregame celebration). It was loud, but I didn't find it overpowering, like I would a club concert.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2014

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