Risk Assessments for Bell Ringing

How many times have you heard the phrase, “You need to do a risk assessment for that”. This may have come from your PCC, from another ringer. Maybe even from your insurance company…

As a ringer of nearly 40 years myself and a veteran of insurance for 35 years I’ve heard them all and more in the past. There’s a lot of mythology that goes around about what you do and don’t need to do in order to comply with insurance conditions and requirements. Equally some of it is true!

Most commercial insurances, (i.e. not personal insurances such as Household or Private Motor), will have a condition towards the start of the policy along the lines of;

Reasonable care. It is a condition precedent to liability that you shall:

  1. Take all reasonable precautions to prevent damage, accident, illness and disease;
  2. Exercise reasonable care in seeing that all statutory and other obligations and regulations are observed and complied with;
  3. Maintain the premises, works, machinery and plant in sound condition.

This is effectively saying that you should not rely on your insurance to pay when you have failed to make reasonable efforts to keep property maintained and people safe. So for example if you know for sure that the floor of a ringing room chamber is unsafe and may not stand the weight of a person or persons it would not be acceptable to send someone up to test this theory, hoping that the insurance will cover it!

Firstly I will draw a distinction between ‘risk assessments’ to meet statutory obligations and implementing practical precautions.

Statutory risk assessment is not a concern for most churches given that this is broadly a low-­risk activity in a predominantly volunteer, non-employee environment. As such, most churches/tower captains would not be under any obligation to complete these. More proportionately, the key would be to take sensible precautions given the specific circumstances or location.

In many cases, you will already have tried and tested arrangements in place to keep safe all those who regularly ring at or visit your premises. As such, all you may need to do is review your existing precautions to check that they will be adequate. Equally it is important to remember, that any health and safety precautions you identify should be proportionate. This will depend on your own circumstances. For example, reflecting the size of your ringing chamber, the numbers of expected regulars and visitors and any idiosyncrasies or peculiarities of your bells.

For the average church, where ringing is usually service and practice night only or occasional peals/ quarters/ branch practices, these will generally present few hazards. Therefore the risk assessment can be quite simple, based on informed judgement and reference to appropriate guidance.

For more notable and iconic rings, such as cathedrals, greater churches and those with a little extra ‘frisson’, (Merton College and Pershore Abbey for example) a more detailed assessment may be required.

Our experience has shown that by having established and documented risk assessments it helps considerably in defending claims and allegations against churches, tower captains and bellringers as well as identifying and minimising or eliminating risks associated with ringing.

Remember that every church and tower is different and one ­size does not always fit all! For example:

  • Ground floor ring or up a staircase?
  • Rope guides or low ceiling?
  • Length of the draught
  • Weight of the bells – heavy or light?
  • Layout of the ringing chamber/ room
  • Idiosyncrasies! “The 5th is slow at backstroke and needs a good pull”

Therefore please use any risk assessment template as just that and make this bespoke to your own situation. No­-one knows their own tower better than those who ring there.

However, remember that a risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork ­ it is about identifying sensible precautions for your ringing and your tower and taking appropriate steps to minimise any risk.

Anyone can do a risk assessment. In practice, it is usually the tower captain or some suitable person who knows and understands ringing matters, risks and hazards and other relevant guidance. But this is not a rule or a requirement.

Of course, completing risk assessments on their own won’t prevent accidents happening. It is important that you take the precautions you have identified as being necessary, which may save a lot of paperwork in the future!


Marcus speaking at the 2019 ART Conference

Marcus Booth BA FCII

Chartered Insurer

Church Underwriting Manager Ecclesiastical Insurance