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Government asked to investigate Christmas music torture

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The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for monitoring and enforcing safety legislation in workplaces, but a spokesman said that it does not regulate retail premises, which are monitored by local authorities.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said that it had not come across any cases of Christmas music alone being a cause of mental distress. "For an employee to seek redress specific to a type of music, rather than volume, they would have to suffer health effects independent of any other cause," said a spokesman. "As far as we are aware, Christmas music alone has not been a cause of occupational ill-health."

Nigel Rogers is the secretary of PipeDown, a campaign against piped music. "We know that unwanted music is another noise, perhaps a particularly pointed noise because it's got a message and it's got a beat and a rhythm normally, so it affects people more than you might think just a normal background noise would," said Rogers.

"Any noise can cause a whole range of physical and psychological abnormalities. In physical terms it can mean raised blood pressure, cortazone disbalance and also depression of the immune system, in fact it generally makes you ill, it causes stress, which is not at all surprising. It is a psychological thing as well at the same time," he said.

Shop workers have taken action in the past, some of it quite radical. Czech workers once staged a walk out in protest at Christmas music, while Austrian shop workers' union the GPA (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten) mounted a campaign about the music in 2003.

"When we started the campaign we wanted to change the reason that playing of Christmas carols happened two months before Christmas. It's not necessary we think," Gottfried Rieser, the man behind the campaign at the GPA told OUT-LAW. "The shop workers come to me and we talk about the problems in the shops and they told them one of the biggest problems in the time before Christmas is the playing of carols. We had meetings with the management of the [shops] companies and they told me there is no problem, they didn't see the problem."

"So we went to the broadcasters and newspapers and there was a lot of people, we started a campaign and it was a good thing," said Rieser. "Then the chairman of the board of Spar and I had a meeting, he told me of course I am right the campaign was very successful and he promised to me he won't play the music any more than three weeks before Christmas."

Though the legal barrier for proving psychological distress due to Christmas music would be high, the campaigners said they will not give up.

"Noise is often called the forgotten pollutant; I think piped music is the forgotten aspect of noise," said PipeDown's Rogers.

"All we are asking for is that the staff be given some opportunity to escape, maybe the music should be switched off at certain times, maybe there should be areas of quiet where staff can go during their breaks, it's not even regulated just now," said the Noise Association's Weedon.

The Austrian example will give campaigners hope. "Today we visited the shops and there were no Christmas songs, no carols. I'm very proud about it," said Rieser.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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