Big Ben Silenced

1st September 2017

BSG Comment piece by Chris Chapman, Technical Support Manager

On Monday 21 August 2017 following the 12 noon chimes Big Ben was silenced.

The Great Bell’s striking and chiming will be paused until 2021 to ensure the prolonged safety of those working on the project.

Parliament’s specialist clock mechanics will ensure that Big Ben can still bong for important national events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday.

The move is part of a £29m three-year programme of essential works to conserve the Elizabeth Tower, the Great Clock and the Great Bell known as Big Ben.

As the Tower is 96 metres tall, scaffolding is needed to enable workers to reach high levels safely. Scaffolding will be dismantled as the work is completed from the top, and at least one clock face will be on show at all times.

The work to be carried out includes repairing problems which cannot be rectified whilst the clock is in action, conserving significant elements of the Tower, repairing and redecorating the interior, renewing the building services and carrying out work to improve health and safety and fire prevention and increasing the Tower’s energy efficiency to reduce environmental impact.

The most famous clock bell in the world stopped chiming to protect workers from its loud noise during the work. This is not the first time the bells have fallen silent, it happens quite often due to birds, faults and other issues and workers need to get it going again.

In 1976 the bell fell silent for a period of around nine months whilst the clock underwent a major overhaul. There was a major conservation project between 1983 and 1985, and it was silenced for a time during this period.

More recently in 2007 the bells were stopped for a period of 6 weeks, while essential maintenance works. These previous periods of silence were not to protect workers’ hearing though which makes the current restoration project unique. Big Ben’s chimes have been measured at 118 decibels. This makes it louder than most of the regularly used construction equipment.

Regulation 6 of The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 states “The employer shall ensure that risk from the exposure of his employees to noise is either eliminated at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

The “Elf n Safety gone mad” brigade will inevitably say ‘Why not just buy some wear ear defenders for the people working on site?’

The answer is simple

Clock mechanics who work on Big Ben currently get ear defenders, but are exposed to the ringing bells for only short periods of time each week but regular exposure of more than a minute to sounds in excess of 110 decibels would cause permanent hearing loss. Big Ben easily falls into this category.

People will be working on the scaffolding day-in day-out throughout the works and it is not a good idea for people working at height to have their hearing obscured as there is concern the ability to hear each other and any alarms could be affected.