Today, one of the most, if not the most famous clock bell in the world will stop chiming until 2021 in order to protect the hearing of parliament's specialist clock mechanics. The 12-noon chimes will sound one last time before temporarily ceasing, but is silencing Big Ben to protect workers hearing the right thing to do?
Many people and national newspapers have raised the fact the famous chimes didn't even fall silent during WW2 and the Blitz. Others argue that the bell is the 'Capitals Timekeeper', whilst PM Theresa May said "It can't be right" that the famous bell will not be heard again until 2021.
However, this won't be the first time the bell has fallen silent for a lengthy period of time. In 1976 Big Ben did not chime for around 9 months due to a major overhaul and in 2007, whilst essential maintenance was being carried out, the bells were stopped for 6 weeks.
What Are Safe Noise Levels?
New rules state that employers need to assess the risk to workers health and provide them with training when noise levels reach 80 decibels, anything above 84 decibels and employers MUST provide hearing protection.
Big Bens chimes have been measured at an incredible 118 decibels, meaning that if a worker was exposed to this level of noise for more than a minute, they could potentially suffer from permanent hearing loss.
A spokesperson for the parliamentary authorities said the chimes would "pose a serious risk" to workers hearing and prevent them from working efficiently.
Would Ear Defenders Not Solve the Problem?
Ear defenders would certainly go some way to protecting the workers hearing but a spokesperson for the work was more concerned about how the ear defenders would affect communication and their ability to work at height.
People will be working on the scaffolding day-in day-out throughout the works, and, while protective headgear could be provided, it is not desirable for individuals working at height to have their hearing obscured as there is concern the ability to hear each other and any alarms could be affected.
A Possible U-Turn?
After coming under much scrutiny from both the PM and the public, parliamentary authorities are considering a dramatic U-turn on the silencing of Big Ben - officials announced that the plan for Big Ben to remain silent until 2021 is now under review.
Speaking to John Bercow, the speaker, Mrs May said:
Of course, we want to ensure people’s safety at work but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.
Whilst we can see why some are amused or confused by the planned silencing of Big Ben’s bong it's really not a joke in our view.
Big Ben rings at 118 decibels and employers must provide hearing protection at just 85!
Mind you, four years seems excessive…perhaps they could play a recording at ground level to satisfy tourists and locals whilst looking after the ears of the restoration team.
What are your thoughts on this debate? Does the Health & Safety of the workers come before the chimes of Big Ben? Leave a comment below or share on social media!