Do Church bells harm you?


A quintessential sound of the British countryside or an irritating source of noise pollution? The answer it seems, lies in the ears of the listener.

When a local council received a complaint that the local bell ringers were becoming a nuisance, they needed to reassure local residents that noise levels hadn’t increased significantly and definitely weren’t a threat to health.

Whilst there had been a church on the site for over 800 years and the residents must have known it was there when they bought the house, the council recognised that they did have a point when claiming that nobody had ever checked that the noise from the bells wasn’t harmful.

When they started to research noise damage, it became clear that much more is now understood about the long term, cumulative, damage possible from noise exposure and that it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. Even if the noise has been part of our environment for centuries.

A sound survey was the first proposed solution but, with initial estimates coming in at £2000 – £3000 for a one-off survey, was going to be prohibitively expensive. Especially if it needed repeating several times.

After researching the market for different options, it was decided that the simplest, and most cost effective, solution was to treat the residents as “workers” and measure their “daily dose” of noise. This would not only provide a measure of the actual noise level the residents were exposed to but also include any other possible noise sources. As damage to health from noise is known to be cumulative, other noise sources needed to be taken into account as well.

The noise “Dosimeter” selected was Listen Ear™ from Pambry Electronics. This is a simple, wearable device that costs less than £300 and has the huge advantage of a 4 week battery life. Using Listen Ear™ it was possible to simply charge the unit and set it to log noise measurements then give it to local residents to wear for a few days. The display on the meter shows instantaneous noise levels and % of a safe daily dose with warning lights if there is a risk of harm. If desired the resident can be given a simple, free, App to monitor their noise exposure on a tablet or phone.

Listen Ear™ App Screens

Once the Listen Ear™ has been recovered it’s a simple matter to check the actual noise dose measured and download a detailed log file for archiving or detailed analysis.

This “self-survey” approach has the additional benefit of reassuring the residents that the survey really does represent the noise they are exposed to.

For less than the cost of an initial survey, the local council have shown that the bell noise really isn’t a threat to hearing health and they know have a simple tool to measure possible noise problems anywhere else in the community.