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DEATH OF CHILD PROMPTED FIREPLACE SAFETY ALERT

Contractor prosecuted after tragic fall of stone mantle in new home

Stonemason Kristian Childs (KD Childs Stonework of Luton T/A) has been prosecuted after part of a fireplace toppled and caused the death of a four-year-old boy at his Northamptonshire home.

Mr Kristian Childs was contracted to install stone fireplaces in new homes, including one in Towcester, which was subsequently bought by David and Gail Green. The couple moved into the property with their son Matthew and older daughter in June 2003.

On 15 October 2005 the 47kg fireplace mantel came away from the wall without warning and fell on Matthew. He was airlifted to hospital but died of his injuries shortly afterwards.

HSE found that Mr Childs had secured the mantel with small patches of mortar rather than mechanical fixings. Northampton Crown Court heard (26 June) that Mr Childs was aware of the need to ensure fireplaces were properly secured after two others he had fitted at other properties were found to be insecure by the home owners.

Defendant aware of risks but failed to take correct steps

Kristian Childs, 42, of Chestnut Avenue, Sundon Park, Luton, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £7,500 with £2,500 costs.

After the hearing Alan Craddock, Head of Operations for the HSE’s Midlands construction division said:

“This was a tragic incident that devastated a young family, made so much worse by the fact it could have been so easily prevented.

Every stone used in a fireplace must have a mechanical fixing, such as a steel bracket and screws, to hold them together and against the wall. A few small patches of mortar are not acceptable because it cannot guarantee a secure bond.

Mr Childs was well aware of the risks of falling fireplaces yet failed to take the correct steps to ensure the fireplace he fitted at Coulthard Close was safe, with appalling consequences.”

Matthew’s mother, Gail Green, said:

“Losing Matthew was devastating. We miss him every day and will never truly recover from the events of that day.

We urge anyone involved with the installation of fireplaces to learn from what happened to our precious son and take steps to ensure that they take the time and trouble to fit them properly. If they don’t then lives will continue to be put at risk and Matthew’s death will have been in vain.”

Since the incident HSE has issued an Safety Bulletin providing information for contractors on preventing risk to occupiers from the installation of modular, stone and artificial stone fireplace surrounds.

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