In recent years HETAS has been made aware of a small number of fatalities caused by incorrectly fitted fireplace surrounds. In a recent court case, a “cowboy job” was said to be the cause of the death of two-year-old boy.
Bram Radcliffe was in his living room when the 60kg fixture, described as “an accident waiting to happen”, fell. Bradford Coroner’s Court heard mum Amy Johnson heard a loud bang and rushed in to find the “lifeless” toddler. Recording a narrative verdict, Martin Fleming described the installation as “sub-standard and dangerous”.
The inquest heard the coal fire was decorated with a marble surround, which was glued and screwed into plasterboard. Coroner Mr Fleming said: “I can only suggest that it was installed either by a cowboy or a cowboy firm, or a DIY enthusiast.”
Whilst any death or injury is unacceptable, what makes this situation worse is that the deaths have happened to the most vulnerable in our society: young children. Toddlers learning to walk often use furniture to pull themselves up onto their feet. A young child pulling on an insecurely fixed fireplace surround can easily load the mantel beyond the point of stability and cause it to topple onto themselves.
Bonding the surround’s back to the wall isn’t considered a suitable method of fixing as bonds can break or be weakened by the thermal movement between the chimney breast and surround. Correct mechanical fixing is the only safe option, with the surround being fixed in place using brackets that are designed to take both the dead load of the surround components and any imposed load from objects placed on the mantel, and children or adults pulling up on it.
Manufacturers have been instructed by HSE to take the necessary measures to ensure the surrounds are securely fixed, giving the following guidance for the information that should be provided to the installer of the surround:
- Which wall/floor types the fireplace surround may be suitable for and those on which it should not be mounted (e.g. non-structural walls such as demountable partitions or lightweight metal stud walls, etc).
- How the surround is to be assembled including the correct sequence.
- The recommended bonding products and the extent of their application (e.g. area and joint thickness) to bed the individual stone components together, and the recommended method of using the bonding product – given the type of stone involved (e.g. pre-wet porous or impervious).
- 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 with a lit fire or appliance.
- Any additional information for the home-owner e.g. how much weight may be placed upon the mantel.
To help strengthen the requirements for fixing fireplace surrounds BS 1251:2015 Specification for open- replace components was redrafted to include extra guidance on fixing both cast stone and cut stone fire surrounds.
For more information visit the HSE bulletin Risks to occupiers from the installation of modular, stone and artificial stone replace surrounds.
Download the Stone Federation of Great Britain’s guidance on fixing fireplace surrounds which was published in 2013 and revised in 2015:
Alternatively contact the HETAS Technical Helpline for advice on 01684 278194 or email email@example.com.
You can access HETAS Technical Bulletin #1 and all of our other bulletins in the HETAS Technical Area (login details required).