/ Assess church tower for abseiling

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Jamie Wakeham - on 22 Nov 2016
Morning all

I've just been asked to run a charity abseil from church tower. I hold SPA so I'm regarded as competent (and have insurance) to carry out the abseil itself. However, I'm fairly sure that SPA does not include assessment of manmade structures within its remit, so I don't think I am legally competent to sign the tower off as a suitable venue.

Who is? Am I right to think an MIA is able to assess this? Or do I need someone with IRATA qualifications?

They've run this abseil twice before; the first time was several years ago, and a scout leader did it; reading between the lines I don't think too many questions were asked! Last time, though, was two years ago, when a firm was abseiling the tower to repoint it; they came back in and ran the charity abseil too. I wonder if I could get hold of their assessment that the tower was suitable and re-use that?

For what it's worth, it looks pretty damn sound to me; the parapet that has to be climbed over to get off the roof appears very solid indeed and the anchors are the massive reinforced beams that the bells are hung from.
robhorton - on 22 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/how-to-organise-a-charity-abseil-event would suggest that a MIA can declare the structure safe, although I'd have thought that knowing about buildings would be more important than knowing about how to instruct in the mountains.
Fraser on 22 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

An engineer?
Jamie Wakeham - on 22 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:
Thanks, all. I'd read that, Rob, and wondered what the 'normal circumstances' under which an MIA could assess it as safe would be, and whether an 800 year old tower was 'normal'!

I'm more concerned about the crenellation that that'd have to clamber through than the beams, to be honest, and I can't really see that an MIA would know any more than me. So maybe I do need some sort of structural engineer or IRATA tech.

I might try getting in touch with one ofthe firms that offer charity abseils, to ask how they do their assessments, but I suspect the only answer I will get is 'we'll do it for you for a large fee'.
Post edited at 12:34
robhorton - on 22 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Presumably the church / tower get some sort of periodic inspection to check it is still structurally safe? If that's been done and the beams can safely take the weight of the bells, having someone abseiling from them isn't going to make much difference. If you're happy with the anchors (and that there's no loose stonework etc) I'd be inclined to just do it to be honest.
Dave 88 - on 22 Nov 2016
In reply to robhorton:

There's a difference between structurally safe, and being able to support load in a direction not intended though.

Maybe see if a locally based structural engineer will help you out for free, seeing as it's for charity.
marsbar - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Sounds like getting hold of the firm that did the repointing is a good idea, if they already have the paperwork it shouldn't be too difficult for them to help you.
Jamie Wakeham - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Thanks all. A couple of discussions I've had with UKCers by email have made it clear to me that what I need is an IRATA L3 who can sign off the anchors, parapet, crenellations etc as suitable - their insurance as an IRATA will cover failure of any of that. Then I as the SPA do the actual chucking victims over the edge part.

tallsteve - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Church bells typically weight around 1 metric ton - a tenor bell can easily weigh in a 1.6 tons. They swing a full 360 degrees. When you stand near the top of a tower when they ring the tower sways from side to side. Yep, a solid stone tower swaying - its a seriously freaky feeling! If the bells in the tower are rung regularly the Tower Captian will be responsible for maintenance of the wooden structures. These structures are incredibly strong due to the forces they need to deal with. If you can belay to these you're onto a good thing. A couple of stainless steel bolts are like blades of grass by comparison.

If its a big church there's bound to be various engineers and surveyors in the congregation. Ask around, they can advise. The Church Captain may already use someone from the congregation. He/She is your main wo/man for all things tower related so get in contact.
tallsteve - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

p.s. Your bigest risk factor is probably the stairs. If the are wooden then they won't be designed for public access and are less well maintained than the bell structure, and will have huge gaps a small adult or child could fall through. If you're lucky you'll have a stone spiral staircase. Assess the stairs as part of your H&S assessment. I suggest you avoid queing on the stairs themselves. A walkie talkie is your friend here.
EddInaBox on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to tallsteve:

> If the bells in the tower are rung regularly the Tower Captian will be responsible for maintenance of the wooden structures. These structures are incredibly strong due to the forces they need to deal with. If you can belay to these you're onto a good thing.

The slight downside I can see is that the bell frame and supporting beams are almost certainly going to be inside the tower on the floor below, with access to the roof above via a stairway (quite possibly a spiral one) or ladder through a hatch (less likely since that would be an extra complication for getting members of the public onto the roof) making rigging somewhat tortuous.


Gavin - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to EddInaBox:

When I ran an abseil from the top of a church tower the comments people have made about stairs, hatches and bells being lower than the roof all applied and management of this aspect was more time consuming than the actual abseil.

The solution we used was to get some scaffold onto to the roof of the church and build a simple platform level with the bottom of the crenalations. This had the advantage that we could have the ropes set up nice and high and it was a simple 'lean back' for the abseilers who were not having to climb through and down the outside of the tower to be below the anchors. Anchors for us were round some of the stone work (corner 'turrets'), but then we had it in writing from the church's surveyor that the tower was suitable and structurally OK for our proposed use of it.
tallsteve - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to Gavin:

Yeah. Although it sounds great in concept unless the layout of your tower is ideal it could be a nightmare.

One option may be to remove some of the slats in the bell loft windows (wind - holes) and use this as your exit point. Depends if they're wood or stone and how well they are fixed. This should allow a high abseil point, possibly off roof beams, and and easy backwards step. Also the ladder and bad steps tend to be from the loft upwards to the roof from my limited experience in bell towers.

Just an idea.

Steve
Jamie Wakeham - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:
Again, thanks all.

I'm chasing the firm that did the repointing, but I will also ask who the church Captain is, and see what inspection regime they have and whether that can help.

I can indeed belay off the main bell support beams; there is a stone spiral stair that leads all the way to the loft level, and there's a high beam just above the level of the parapet, so anchors will be (just) above the abseiler. I might look at a little platform for them to step out onto, though.

You're quite right that the riskiest part of the exercise is going to be getting people up to me! I'm going to install a rope as handrail and some lighting in the stairway, and there is a helpful little room 3/4 of the way to the top that I can use as a green room. The final wooden ladder out of the loft onto the roof is less than perfect but I will be standing right next to them as they do that bit, and I might even have them clipped in and on my belay before they start up that. I'm an ex-school teacher so risk asssessment of this type is second nature to me.
Post edited at 09:22
tallsteve - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Sounds about as good as you're likely to find in any tower. Clipping them onto the safety for the ladder ascent sounds ideal. The only other issue is competant helpers who can check and fit harnesses etc. and manage the crowds.

Its something I have considered for our local church a few times as a money raising scheme, but the tower has too many issues associated with it, including a very nice large clock face directly on the abseil line.
EddInaBox on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

> I will also ask who the church Captain is, and see what inspection regime they have and whether that can help.
> I can indeed belay off the main bell support beams; there is a stone spiral stair that leads all the way to the loft level, and there's a high beam just above the level of the parapet, so anchors will be (just) above the abseiler.
> ... I'm going to install a rope as handrail and some lighting in the stairway...

Sounds like a small sanctus bell if it's slung from a beam above the roof level, rather than a full ring of bells inside the tower. Unless there are (also) several large bells in the tower then there's unlikely to be a Captain of the Bellringers, and a sanctus bell would probably not be their responsibility anyway. If there aren't lights on the stairs then it seems unlikely there is a regular band of ringers.

Assessment of the fabric of the tower will be the responsibility of the church's architect, who should carry out a full quinquennial inspection ( http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/guidance-advice/looking-after-your-church/quinquennial-inspecti... ) however some may not even go up the tower if access is tricky, and attempt to do the appraisal from ground level.

> I might look at a little platform for them to step out onto, though.

Like this?
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-968Qx_FRMZg/UlBa-qegfJI/AAAAAAAAAUA/gLJfnaLZ7sI/s1600/IMG_1841.JPG

In this picture you can see a block of wood slung over the parapet to provide a step:
http://www.oxfordrapecrisis.net/sites/osarcc.d7.ox4.org/files/OSARCC%20abseil%202016.jpg

Here's a scaffolding arrangement to raise the rope up a bit, braced against the parapet and presumably anchored with ropes to something behind it:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/hatt-adventures/6283083062/in/album-72157628003267329/

Here's a slatted box type arrangement, cut to fit the profile of the parapet and allow people to get in position more easily:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/hatt-adventures/7392837514/in/album-72157628003267329/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/hatt-adventures/7392835610/in/album-72157628003267329/
tallsteve - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to EddInaBox:

Nice links. Love the scaff platform.
Gavin - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to tallsteve:
Yes our setup was something like the one you linked here:
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-968Qx_FRMZg/UlBa-qegfJI/AAAAAAAAAUA/gLJfnaLZ7sI/s1600/IMG_1841.JPG

I would add that the roof we were working on was all lead, so had to be careful to make sure we didn't put a hole in it with the ends of the scaffold tube. I don't have any pics to hand of my set up, but these were taken on the day by the local paper.

http://www.keighleynews.co.uk/news/10542129.Kieighley_Scout_group_s_leap_of_faith_off_church/#galler...
http://www.keighleynews.co.uk/news/10542129.Kieighley_Scout_group_s_leap_of_faith_off_church/#galler...
Post edited at 14:37
Ian Parsons - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to Gavin:

Interesting to note that somebody at Keighley News isn't quite sure how to spell Keighley.
muppetfilter - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to EddInaBox:

Im quite shocked at the scaffolding. There is no cross bracing from the triangles either side to the top horizontal tube making it laterally unstable putting a lot of strain on the clips which are swivels and not fixed 90s. There is nothing stopping the whole thing folding sideways due to leverage.
Something like this needs designing by a competent scaffold company.
Another option is a Modular Davit with a weight box.
EddInaBox on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to muppetfilter:

> Im quite shocked at the scaffolding. There is no cross bracing from the triangles either side to the top horizontal tube making it laterally unstable putting a lot of strain on the clips which are swivels and not fixed 90s. There is nothing stopping the whole thing folding sideways due to leverage.

Here's the whole page, the caption to that photo' is quite apt:
http://twitphotos.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/abseiling-from-derby-cathedral.html
muppetfilter - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to EddInaBox:
It was the simple A frame I was more concerned about in the flickr photos.
Post edited at 16:12
EddInaBox on 24 Nov 2016
tom_in_edinburgh - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to EddInaBox:


Looks like the result of paying a council health and safety guy to organise a public hanging.
ads.ukclimbing.com
muppetfilter - on 24 Nov 2016
In reply to EddInaBox:

Neither look to have been built by competent scaffolders , building load bearing safety critical scaffold isnt a task for the keen DIYer

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