The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Safety Alert on Fireplace Surrounds

Graham Marshall - Thursday, May 09, 2013
The UK Health and Safety Executive (UK HSE) is alerting home owners, owner builders, and building contractors about dangerous incidents in which heavy stone components forming part of a modern fireplace surround have fallen causing damage and injury. 

In two recent and separate incidents, two young children have been killed when a modern fireplace has collapsed onto them.

In both cases, the fireplace had been installed in the family home for a matter of months before the fatal accidents. 

And HSE is aware of several other fatalities to children from similar incidents over several years. 

In all cases, these incidents have happened because the fireplaces were not securely, mechanically fixed in place. 

As a result of these incidents, the Stone Federation of Great Britain has revised its guidance on safe installation of fire place surrounds.

Modular stone fireplace surrounds commonly consist of two, vertical legs (jambs) on top of which is the horizontal lintel (frieze or headstone).

Above the lintel is usually a mantel shelf.

The mantel shelf may also have a significant overhang projecting forward of the lintel. 

The individual stone components can exceed 50 kilograms in weight. 

The stone components are set in place with either mortar or another bonding material acting as bedding between the stone components. 

Mechanical fixings (e.g. steel brackets, dowels and screws etc) are also used to hold the stone components in position and to secure them to the wall. 

If the individual components are not designed to incorporate or include adequate fixings or if they are not installed correctly (i.e. mechanically secured together and secured to the surrounding wall it), is possible for the mantel shelf to detach and to topple over. 

The toppling of an inadequately installed mantel shelf can be triggered by passive weight such as heavy items stored on the mantel or by a person pulling down or hanging from the projecting edge of the mantel.

The heavy weights of the toppling components place persons, especially children at risk of severe or even fatal injuries.

Designers of modular stone fireplace surrounds should ensure that their design incorporates mechanical fixings that are suitable for a range of locations and able to be installed onto a variety of floor and wall types. 

Manufactures and suppliers should ensure that adequate information is provided to installers to safely assemble and install the fireplace surround including:

+  Which wall/floor types the fire surround is suitable for and those on which it should not be mounted;

+  The assembly procedure including the sequence;

+  The recommended bonding products and the extent of their application (e.g. area and joint thickness) to bed the individual stone components together;

+  The recommended method of using the bonding product given the type of stone involved;

+  How the fireplace surround should be secured to different forms of wall construction and finish;

+  The number and type of mechanical fittings to be used, where they are positioned, and how they are to be fixed to both the stone components and to the wall to hold and secure the stones in position;

+  The curing time before the fireplace can be used; and

+  Any additional information for the home-owner (e.g. load rating for the mantel).

Installers should ensure that they follow the manufacturer's and supplier's guidelines.
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