THE “madness” of using adhesive-only methods of fixing stone mantelpieces to walls must stop, a councillor has said, following a trading standards review which has now transformed national guidelines after the death of six-year-old Bella Pritchard.
The Buckinghamshire Trading Standards review team are now also calling for any adhesive-only fixed mantelpieces to be strengthened with mechanical fixings in a bid to prevent more tragic accidents.
Bella was crushed to death in July 2012 at her Beaconsfield home by a falling stone fireplace mantel weighing more than 85kg.
At Reading Crown Court on Monday builder Christopher Elmer, who installed the fireplace using glue to attach it to the wall, was jailed for eight months and ordered to pay £1,000 costs for breaching health and safety regulations.
Martin Phillips, Buckinghamshire County Council Cabinet member for community engagement, said the potential dangers of inadequate stone surround fixings had to be made clear.
He said: “Stone mantelpieces are unbelievably heavy. Some can weigh as much as a domestic fridge freezer. Can you imagine just gluing a freezer to the wall? You simply wouldn't do it, so why are heavy stone mantels still being fixed in this way? It's madness and the practice must stop.”
Bella’s death, along with a separate incident in Bucks in which a woman suffered broken fingers pushing a falling stone mantel away from a toddler sitting below it, sparked BCC’s Trading Standards team to look into the matter more deeply.
The team’s research found examples of poor fixing instructions and instances where only adhesive was used to secure the stone work - resulting in failure of the fixing.
They found no formal installation inspection process or requirement for an independent check after work had been completed.
As a result of the research, and subsequent tests, the National House Building Council (NHBC) has created a new installation standard and the Stone Federation of Great Britain has updated its data sheet of best practice for the fitting of stone fireplaces.
The Health and Safety Executive has also recently put out an alert to alert people to the new Stone Federation guidance and remind fitters to use mechanical fixings.
Bucks Trading Standards manager Amanda Poole said its quest was driven by a desire to outlaw adhesive-only fittings and improve fixings to cut the risk of further incidents.
She said: “The real unknown is how many stone fireplaces have been fitted to existing homes are in Britain.
“'We know that one supplier alone has sold more than 20,000 fireplaces in the past decade, so we're talking about tens of thousands.”
The tests carried out by Imperial College, London, made it clear that there were so many variables – such as building structure, type and age of plaster, age and storage of adhesive, and even the paint it was used on - it was impossible to say exactly why fixings failed, or to create a formula for safe adhesive-only fitted fireplaces.
Amanda said: ““But what our findings show is that there is absolutely no substitute for mechanical fixings for fitting new stone fireplaces. And we believe safety will be served if all existing stone fireplaces installed using adhesive after the house was built were strengthened with mechanical fixings.”
In 2013 two more children died as a result of falling fireplace masonry, bringing the total since 2000 to 10.