Risk Assessment in the Tower


Everyone carries out risk assessments in everyday life: Shall I overtake this car? Shall I cross the road? Is this D-I-Y activity risky? Is this ladder safe? It is largely a question of common sense and involves looking for hazards and judging whether the risk such hazards present is acceptable. So, what about risks when ringing or working in a tower? The Towers and Belfries Committee of the Guild has written Technical Note TBC02 and this brief note summarises the contents. If you want a full copy of the document, e-mail the Editor who will send you one.

Tower risks can be broadly categorised into three areas:-

  • Access to the tower and the bells
  • Ringing Chamber
  • Bell Chamber


“How secure is the tower door?” Is the tower key kept in a safe place or under a stone outside the door, or under the hassock in the nearest pew to the door, or on a shelf in the porch? Is there a risk that someone could guess where the key is, or could stumble upon it by accident? If someone gained access to the tower and injured themselves, there is a risk they would sue, despite the fact that they should not have been there.

Access risks apply to ringing chambers as well as ground floor rings. Tower access is not usually designed for easy access and may present a risk. Are your stairs worn or uneven or loose? Is there anything you can do to improve them? Should you think about re-casting concrete or stone steps to eliminate the wear on treads? If you’ve got a rope fixed to aid climbing the stairs, is it secure? If access is by a staircase, are the treads safe and is the handrail secure?

Could access to the bells be improved? If it is by ladder, is the ladder secure at top and bottom and are the rungs damage-free? Are handholds or ropes secure? Can you open access hatches without injuring fingers and limbs? Can you secure hatches to stop them falling? Have you minimised the risk of falling back through the hatch?

The Ringing Chamber

Loss of lighting due to a failure of the electricity supply is a risk and ringing chambers should be equipped with emergency lighting. (See Towers and Belfries Technical Note, TBC01 – “Emergency Lighting for Ringing Chambers”), also available from the Secretary of the Towers and Belfries Committee (see end of document).

Clock hammer controls and Ellacombe Hammers could fail to operate properly or be interfered with. Are your controls in good order and labelled clearly? If non-ringers have access to the ringing chamber, for example if it doubles as a vestry, have you thought of padlocking to prevent unauthorised operation?

Ropes hanging free in an upstairs ringing chamber with the downstairs door locked and with the bells down are unlikely to present any risks, but if you leave the bells up, do you have a warning notice to this effect? Ropes in ringing chambers with access to non-ringers should obviously be stowed out of the way, ideally by means of a “spider” to lift them well clear of the floor area. Is your spider rope in good condition and not frayed? Is it located in such a position that if it were to fall, it won’t hit anybody underneath it.

The majority of accidents in industry and the home are categorised as “slips, trips and falls”. Are there hazards in your ringing chamber which could cause accidents in these categories? What about rope mats on polished floors, clock hammer levers or insecure boxes to stand on?

Electrical safety in a church is vital and normally covered by quinquennial inspections. But is all the wiring in the ringing and bell chambers in good order or should anything be brought to the attention of the church authorities? Do you need danger signs on readily accessible fittings. Have you got a fire extinguisher in the ringing chamber?

If your tower has a clock, does it have a pendulum and weights in the ringing chamber and, if so, do they represent hazards which require protection in the form of restricted access to them?

It should not be forgotten that the most hazardous activity in a tower is the ringing itself and the potential for accidents in a small crowded tower is significant. The person organising the ringing should be on the look out for hazards such as watchers’ feet off the ground.

The Bell Chamber

Access to the bells sometimes means emerging under one of the bells. Is there a warning notice requiring the bells to be down before access can be gained? If there is a risk of hitting your head on a bell and, if so, is there a warning notice to this effect? Do you provide protective headgear for those requiring access to the bells in such circumstances?

The floor of the bell chamber may present a potential risk, if its condition is not regularly checked; what state is yours in? If you climb into and out of bell pits, do you have aids, such as a ladder, to help you? If you have a wooden frame wide enough to walk on, have you considered fitting non-slip material to it? Are there any low beams above the bells which could cause a head injury if protective headgear is not worn? Are warnings about such hazards given in the form of notices or hazard tapes? This last point is important when the public may be allowed to climb to the top of a tower, for example on open days.

All towers should have a set of dedicated tools available for maintenance work (this is covered in a Tower Maintenance Award inspection). Have you considered locating these tools in the bell chamber itself to avoid the problem of carrying them up an awkward access?

Outcome of the Risk Assessment

If you do undertake a risk assessment, it should be recorded in writing, especially if you find a hazard which requires action to eliminate or reduce the risk from it. In the very unlikely event of evidence being required after an accident, written evidence is infinitely better than someone’s memory! If the assessment reveals action which needs to be taken, this should either be brought to the attention of the responsible authority which in most cases would be the PCC, or you should log the task to be carried out in the belfry maintenance book which every well-run tower should have!

Hopefully your tower will be accident free. However, it is prudent (and a requirement of the Tower Maintenance Award) that each tower should have a first aid kit readily available to treat minor injuries. At the other end of the scale, have you considered how you would get an incapacitated ringer down from your tower, or would you need to rely on the emergency services?


There are likely to be two different responses to this. You will either say “Don’t be ridiculous!” or “Gosh, I never thought of that!” It is to be hoped that the latter will be the more likely and that if nothing else, the questions posed will make you consider whether you could do anything to reduce risks in a tower.

Full Version

This is a summary version of the full Technical Note. To obtain a copy of the full version, which includes a simple check list for risk assessment, contact the Secretary of the Towers and Belfries committee, Mark Walker.