If you've been anywhere near the news you will be aware of the hullabaloo relating to the silencing of Big Ben in the name of 'Health and Safety'
In summary, essential work is required in the clock. As the clock bell is 'really loud' it must be switched off for the full duration of the work - a whopping 4 years.
The critics are holding their heads in their hands citing phrases like 'madness', 'why can't we just give the workers ear defenders etc. etc.
What does the law say?
Firstly, employers must carry out an 'suitable and sufficient' risk assessment of any health risks in the workplace. Noise, in this case, is a significant risk.
Having identified noise as a risk they must take steps to lower the risk so far as is reasonably practicable. Reasonable practicability is the balance of the risk versus the time, cost and effort of controlling it. The bigger the risk, the bigger the effort to control it!
For example, when considering controls employers are required to consider collective measures over individual measures. Individual hearing protection should be considered lower down the list. They may be suitable for short duration tasks (it would not be 'reasonably practicable'' to shut down and restart Big Ben for a 2 minute job for instance). However, this project is to last 4 years.
Noise at Work Regulations
More specifically, employers who expose workers to noise have duties under these regulation s. These too govern how control measures must be considered and - shock horror - PPE is a last resort.
Big Ben blasts out a whopping 118 decibels. The HSE advise that any regular exposure to noises over 110 decibels is is damaging to hearing.
In this case it is possible to turn the noise off altogether. So they should do that.
Remember also that many companies who have fallen short of not doing what is 'reasonably practicable' or not followed the 'principles of prevention'. Some of these will even be on the same issue of exposure to noise at work. Precedent is well and truly established and to back track in this would be unjust.
Think also about the workers. Can anyone reading this possibly imagine what it would be like wearing ear defenders every day for 4 years whilst working a manual task. Sounds like pure pain to me.
I am a lover of the bongs but this is a financial decision not a safety one. In simple terms the hearing and welfare of his carrying out the job has to be properly managed.
To turn the bongs on out of hours or at weekends when work may not be happening sounds like a sensible middle ground without compromising the law.
Let's us know what you think about the silencing of the bongs or contact us if you have questions about noise at work.