Should Big Ben be silenced for four years?


    This week the prime minister called for the House of Commons commission to ‘urgently’ look into whether the Great Bell (Big Ben) should be taken out of service for four years during the current renovation project.

    An earlier announcement regarding this project had said that Big Ben was to have the Great Bell stopped during a major, multi-million pound restoration project to ensure the health and safety of workers on site.

    The TUC’s health and safety expert, Hugh Robertson, welcomed the move, comparing the chimes of Big Ben to “putting your ear next to a police siren.”

    He also commented that “We know August is silly season, but today’s headlines just don’t ring true. When all 14 tonnes of Big Ben bongs near you, you’ll know it. At nearly 120 decibels, it’s like putting your ear next to a police siren. Protecting workers’ hearing is far from ‘health and safety gone mad’. It’s just plain common sense.”

    The Prime Minister, Theresa 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 and I hope that the Speaker, as the chairman of the House of Commons commission, will look into this urgently so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years.”

    The Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who is a member of the commission responsible for the Palace of Westminster maintenance project, has contacted the director general of the Commons requesting a re-assessment of the decision to silence Big Ben.

    He said: “It would not be possible for them to continue to be rung every 15 minutes as is currently the case, that would not be practical, but it may be perhaps practical and it may be financially viable to ring them more frequently than is currently being proposed.”

    Some other commentators on this issue are suggesting that ear defenders and shorter work shifts may have been an alternative to protect the health and safety of workers and also ensure Big Ben’s bells still sounded.

    Workers currently operating on the site have been using ear defenders for short periods while exposed to Big Ben’s noise. However long-term exposure of some four years to Big Ben’s 120dB chimes has meant that some people have questioned whether any form of PPE could protect against permanent damage to hearing for the workers. Others are saying such equipment is currently regularly used on construction and manufacturing sites, where noise levels are at a similar level to the legendary bells.