U.K. Parliament Spurs Debate Over Hearing Protection for Big Ben Restoration Workers
On Aug. 14, the U.K. Parliament announced that the famous chimes of “Big Ben,” the Great Bell of the clock tower in London, would be silenced during planned restoration and conservation work “to ensure the safety of those working on the Tower.” But the prospect of silencing the iconic chimes prompted an immediate backlash. Newspapers and Members of Parliament (MPs) criticized the decision, and David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, told a London-based radio station that there was “hardly a health and safety argument” for it.
According to a statement from Parliament released the following day, the chiming and striking of the clock tower’s bells rings in at 118 decibels.
“Parliament has a duty of care to those on site, and our priority is to ensure the safety of those carrying out the work and in the immediate vicinity,” the statement explains. “Constant proximity and prolonged exposure to the chimes would pose a serious risk to the hearing of those working on the scaffolding or in the Tower.”
The statement also details concerns regarding workers’ ability to communicate with one another and to raise or hear alarms. Big Ben weighs more than 13 tons and is accompanied by four quarter bells, which chime every 15 minutes. Temporarily stopping the bells will also ensure that workers on the tower’s scaffolding, which will reach a height of 100 meters, will not be startled by the loud, sudden noise, according to the statement.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents more than 5.6 million workers in 50 unions, supported the decision to silence Big Ben while workers restore the clock tower.
On Aug. 21, hundreds of spectators gathered outside the Palace of Westminster to witness what was thought to be Big Ben’s final regular chimes until restoration work is completed sometime in 2021.