Silencing Big Ben to Protect Workers

"Whilst hearing protection provides a suitable short term solution to the 118 decibel chiming and striking of the bells, it is not acceptable for those working for long periods in the vicinity of Big Ben."

Big Ben's famous clock went silent on Aug. 21 as repair work commenced on the mechanism. You might have thought the civilized world was coming to an end by the hue and cry raised about this by Prime Minister Theresa May and others. But Britain's Parliament on Aug. 15 framed the issue squarely1 as an occupational safety necessity. Good for them.

"On Monday 21 August at noon, Big Ben's famous bongs will sound for the last time before major conservation works are carried out. The Elizabeth Tower, home to the Great Clock and Big Ben, is currently undergoing a complex programme of renovation work that will safeguard it for future generations. While this vital work takes place, the Great Bell's world famous striking will be paused to ensure the safety of those working in the Tower. Parliament's specialist clock makers will ensure that Big Ben can still bong for important national events, such as New Year's Eve and Remembrance Sunday," their statement said. It explains that, while understanding Big Ben's importance as a national icon, a "rigorous risk assessment process" done in preparation for the repairs showed workers' hearing would be at serious risk from the chimes as they worked on scaffolding around the tower.

"Whilst hearing protection provides a suitable short term solution to the 118 decibel chiming and striking of the bells, it is not acceptable for those working for long periods in the vicinity of Big Ben," it said. "In addition, it is vital for workers to be able to communicate with one another on site, or to raise an alarm should the necessity arise. This would not be possible were the bells to continue to sound throughout the works. Workers on the scaffolding could also be startled by the loud sudden noise, with consequences for their own safety and those of other people in and around the tower. The only way to ensure people's safety is to temporarily stop the Bell."

The chimes "are an integral part of parliamentary life and we will ensure that they can resume their role as the nation's timekeeper as soon as possible," they promised.

Reference
1. https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/media-relations-group/news/elizabeth-tower-and-big-ben-conservation-works/

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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