Health and Safety in Bell Towers: A Guide to Good Practice


The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has published several pamphlets on work in bell towers. One is 'Tower Changes', being guidelines on procedures for work to bells and bell equipment, and another is Fact Sheet 5, dealing with Health and Safety matters during such work.

The guidelines presented here deal with day to day good practice in health and safety in bell towers, but do not cover precautions necessary during repairs and alterations. They are not a Code of Practice that could be applied to all towers, but they highlight points that should be taken into account when formulating that part of a church's Health and Safety Policy which applies to bell towers.

[Note that a completely separate guideline has been issued dealing with insurance and safety matters: Insurance: Leaving bells "up"]

Procedures will necessarily be thorough in large churches and cathedrals, but the basic elements of safe working practices should apply even in small country church towers.

A. Initial Procedures

A1. The bellringer appointed to be in charge of activities related to bellringing in the tower (normally the Tower Captain) should, on appointment, review each activity (eg, bell handling for learners, bellringing, use of boxes, length of bell ropes, putting on muffles, bell maintenance) from a Health and Safety point of view (ie, make Risk Assessments), or should review risk assessments already in place.

A2. Any new activity should be similarly assessed.

A3. A written record should be made of precautions (including any training) to be taken to minimise risks associated with bellringing activities and the bellringer-in-charge, on appointment, should confirm that these precautions will be followed.

B. General Precautions

B1. There should always be an indication at ground level (eg, at the entrance to the tower stairs) and in the ringing room to show when any persons are in the tower at higher levels.

B2. The entrance to the ringing room, bellchamber, and any intermediate chambers should normally be kept locked against unauthorised entry.

B3. Smoking should not be permitted within the tower nor on roofs, stairs, or walkways leading to or from the tower.

B4. Adequate lighting should be available for any tasks performed in the tower, including provision for emergency lighting in the case of mains failure. Any alteration or addition to the electrical installation, with appropriate authority, should be carried out to Council for the Care of Churches standards and only by an NICEIC registered electrician.

B5. Electrical equipment should be used in the tower only if it is in good order and can be operated safely. Portable electrical equipment should be operated only through a micro circuit-breaker unit at the power point.

B6. Heating in a tower should not be by equipment using naked flames. Hot element radiant heating (eg, infra-red or quartz-ray) should be used only if the equipment is permanently fixed in agreed safe places. Portable heaters (eg, convectors) shall be used only if kept at safe distances from flammable materials and should not be left switched on when the tower is unattended.

B7. Non-ringers in a tower must always be accompanied by a competent ringer during ringing and when bells are left mouth upwards (see also C2).

B8. There should be a Fire Plan for the church, including the tower, and the person-in-charge of the ringers must ensure that all persons in the tower in connection with bellringing activities are aware of it. Fire extinguishers in the tower should be in agreed fixed locations and be checked annually.

B9. Visiting ringers: the person in charge of ringers must be satisfied that all visiting ringers are of adequate competence to be able to ring safely.

B10. Exposed ground floor rings should have a mechanism to ensure the ropes are pulled up out of normal reach even when the bells are down. The control for letting down the ropes should be locked.

C. In the Bellchamber

C1. Bells should always be kept mouth downwards when the tower is vacated unless they can be safely left inverted, or 'up'. Bells may only be safely left up if:

C2. Entry to the bells and bellframe should not be permitted when the bells are ringing or are set mouth upwards unless there are safe means of locking the bells in the up position, or if it is necessary and safe to observe a bell in motion. Two people should be present in such circumstances of whom at least one should be a competent ringer. If the bell is in motion without its clapper being tied, ear defenders should be freely available and worn.

C3. Safe access should be available to every part of the bell equipment that needs to be maintained, including for the application of muffles.

C4. Whenever any maintenance or other activity has taken place in the bellchamber, or intermediate chambers, this should be recorded in a log book. Before any subsequent bellringing takes place, the bellringer-in-charge of ringers should ensure that conditions are safe for bellringing and that there are no obstructions that would endanger persons, bells, or the fabric of the tower.

A SAFETY SUMMARY

  1. Keep bellropes locked away at ground floor rings of bells.
  2. Keep the bellchamber door locked, especially if it is accessible without passing through the ringing chamber.
  3. Display warning/danger and fire exit notices on appropriate doors.
  4. Install a prominent red light to indicate if anyone is in the bellchamber.
  5. Never allow anyone to work alone in the tower whether the bells are up or down.
  6. Avoid working in the bellchamber when the bells are up.
  7. Put muffles on clappers only when the bells are down.
  8. Ensure that non-ringing visitors are always accompanied by ringers.
  9. Only allow appointed experienced ringers to be responsible for teaching.
  10. Only allow an inexperienced visiting ringer to ring if an experienced ringer stands close behind him or her.

THINK SAFETY

For further information contact the Chairman of the Towers and Belfries Committee of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers:

David Kirkcaldy
Tel: 01903 813653, Fax:
27 Hills Road, Steyning BN44 3QG, UK