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A journalist with 13 years of experience on trade publications covering construction, local government, property, pubs, and transport.
August 16, 2017

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Noise

UPDATE: HSE respond to calls for review of Big Ben silence

The HSE has responded to the prime minister’s and MPs calls for the House of Commons commission to review whether Big Ben should be silenced for four years during renovation work.

The Health and Safety Executive said in a statement that ‘people’s health should not be made worse by the work they do and that no worker should suffer any hearing loss while working on this project.’

It said: “As part of our regulatory role, HSE has liaised with both the client and the principal contractor on this major construction project in central London. This has been one of many projects where we work with contractors in the planning stages, and we’ve noted how intricate, complex and challenging this particular exercise will be. Health and safety aside, we understand these challenges would have silenced Big Ben’s chimes for at least two years anyway.

“While we were aware part of the project related to the clock, we have not been involved in discussions about how that work will be specifically carried out.

“There is broad agreement that the noise risks associated with working around the clock bells are highly significant and we would expect the principal contractor to manage those risks. How it does so is a matter for those involved and their client.”

It follows the announcement that Big Ben was to have the Great Bell stopped during a large-scale, multi-million pound restoration project to ensure the health and safety of workers on site.

It also comes as the TUC health and safety expert, Hugh Robertson, welcomed the move, comparing Big Ben to ‘putting your ear next to a police siren’.

Silly season

He said: “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.”

But 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.”

Re-assessment of silence

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, a member of the commission responsible for the Palace of Westminster maintenance work, has written to 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.”

But it also follows other MPs making disparaging remarks about the health and safety of workers, including Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, who said: “Tell the poor little darlings to put headphones on.”

Ear defenders

Some commentators have suggested that ear defenders and shorter shifts could have been used in order to protect the health and safety of workers and also ensure Big Ben’s bell still rang. Workers currently on site at the Elizabeth Tower have been using ear defenders for short periods while exposed to Big Ben’s noise.

An article in the Daily Mail even suggested workers use a specific product – 3M Peltor LiteCom ear defenders, which the paper claimed cost £500 – in order to provide noise abatement from the bell.

But the exposure time of four years to Big Ben’s 120dB sound has meant that some commentators have questioned whether any PPE could mitigate long-term hearing damage for workers.

However, others have said such products are regularly used on construction and manufacturing sites, where noise levels are similar to Big Ben.

 

Barbour download: Guide to working at height

Work at any height can cause injury; a fall from a height of just one or two steps can cause serious injury.

The Regulations were amended in 2007 to extend their application to those who work at height providing instruction or leadership to one or more people engaged in caving or climbing by way of sport, recreation, team building or similar activities in Great Britain.

Download your free guide from Barbour to understand: Duties of persons in control of work at height; Duties of persons undertaking work at height; General controls when working at height; Method statement for work at height; Selection of a means of access; Working platforms; Guardrails and toeboards; Ladders Mobile work platforms; Suspended access equipment; Personal suspension equipment and, Inspection of fall arrest equipment.

Barbour EHS

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Mary Darlington
Mary Darlington
3 years ago

They have no basic understanding of noise induced hearing loss and how it is irreversible. They also pass laws to protect workers and then want it ignored in this case. They do not know what they are talking about. Our challenge is to educate them!

Peter Symondson
Peter Symondson
3 years ago

Why cant the bells be recorded and played back as normal from a source that Londoners can hear but from a location/direction that does not harm the workers?

Peter Symondson
Peter Symondson
3 years ago

Why cant the bells be recorded and played as usual from a source that Londoners (and our esteemed colleagues in Whitehall) can hear but sufficiently remote such that workers hearing is not harmed

Simon Curtis
Simon Curtis
3 years ago

I suggest that a recording of the bell be played at 120db in the Commons chamber every 15 minutes to see if the darling MPs can work or concentrate

Ken Jones
Ken Jones
3 years ago

Why can’t the bells still be used during the out of work hours or is this project a 24/7 work in progress?

neil mcintosh
neil mcintosh
3 years ago

I would be surprised if adequate PPE could not be supplied. There are many options available which would allow for the safe working of the tradesmen but the reality is that anything that cuts noise also cuts a certain amount of speech perception at the same time. The signal to noise ratio is dependant on the proximity to the noise source. The fuss about the bells is so much white noise. (or so little)
However if they want protection – we have it.

Alan Harte
Alan Harte
3 years ago

Maybe the “poor little darlings” MP’s can take out insurance for all the workers, and pay compensation and any other expenses they may be required to have for their hearing loss!! It is so ridiculous that they want a different rule for them and are not bothered by the legislation they passed! But I’ve a good idea, as they don’t seem to have a clue, and to ensure that they know what its like, let them stand by the bell for a day with the chimes and them let us all know what its like afterwards! More MP’s should walk… Read more »

James Munro
James Munro
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Harte

This is health and safety gone mad. Why can’t they just wear ear plugs for goodness sake.

Shaun Litchfield
Shaun Litchfield
3 years ago
Reply to  James Munro

Well done James for that stupid remark. A lot of people think that all H&S is mad and it looks like you are one. Current H&S if practictioners use it in the correct manner is there to protect operatives and workers alike. Have you ever heard the bells at close quarters and what damage do you think it will do to a persons hearing. These days we have our phones to tell us the time or try a wrist watch. Why don’t we let these people get on and do the job without people making silly remarks without knowing the… Read more »