Big Ben Bong Bonkers
August is usually called “The silly season” by journalists because there is so little news around as Parliament is not sitting and politicians are away on holiday. As a result they have to fill their papers with stupid stories that would normally be consigned to their delete box.
This year is no exception. This morning two newspapers have the same story on their front pages. Basically health and safety has gone mad and silenced the chimes of Big Ben…..
The Daily Mail front page headline reads “Death knell of Common sense” with a subheading saying – “Yes, it’s all down to health and safety!” The Telegraph not only splashes it on its front page it has an editorial that claims “Where the Nazis failed, health and safety has triumphed, as the nation’s timepiece is muted to spare the hearing of engineers carrying out restoration work. They could wear ear protectors, of course, but this is deemed “not desirable for those working at height””. The Sun meanwhile claims it “all bong wrong”.
It will come to no surprise to readers of this blog that this is all total nonsense. The bells are regularly silenced for servicing, most recently ten years ago. They were also stopped between 1983-85 when there was a big refurbishment programme.
The press have also complained that tourists will not be able to hear the authentic sound of Big Ben, although they may be more bothered by not being able to see the clock tower as it will be under scaffolding during the entire period.
And of course for the 99.99% of the population that do not live or work within a mile or so of Big Ben life will go on as usual and they will be able to continue to listen to it as both the radio and television stations have said they will continue to use recordings.
But lets look at the reason for the bells being silenced. The clock tower and clock are being subjected to the largest restoration work ever attempted in their history, with the entire mechanism being dismantled piece-by-piece and each cog restored for the first time since it was built. Also the four clock dials will be cleaned and repaired, the cast-iron framework repaired, all the masonry renovated, a lift is being installed and there are a range of other conservation works.
During the process the bells will be disconnected and the weights lowered to the bottom of the shaft, so the idea of keeping the bells ringing, or even ringing them once a day is a non-starter, although the bells will be put back in place for events such as New Year, at considerable effort and cost.
I should also point out at the bells are pretty loud. They ring at 118 decibels. Employers have to start taking action at 80 decibels and provide hearing protection at 85 decibels. You might think that there is not much difference between 85 decibels and 118, but the way the decibel scale works is that the volume of noise doubles every 8 or 10 decibel increase, so 118 is over 8 times the level that is considered dangerous for hearing and much the same as standing next to a jet plane at ramp.
Ear protectors are also not an option. Let’s not forget that the law is clear. If there is a hazard like noise you remove the hazard if you practically can before considering options like defenders. In this case you clearly can, so depending on protectors rather than stopping the bells would be unlawful. Also ear protectors would not be practical. Firstly the workers would not be able to communicate or hear alarms. Secondly, because the peals are every 15 minutes there is little doubt that the workers would take the protectors off in between and forget to put them back on time.
Now all this may seem like a bit of harmless fun but there is a nasty message underlining all the coverage. Once again we are having the message pushed at us that health and safety is out of control. This time with the added touch that it is destroying a good old fashioned and much loved British institution. As the Telegraph fumed “the most famous emblem of the nation is being silenced at a crucial time as the UK negotiates the terms of its new identity.”
In fact I am surprised that none of the papers have so far linked it to Britain being able to get rid of these ridiculous rules such as hearing protection once we leave the EU (but there is still time).