What are we worried about?

We owe it to ourselves and each other to understand and reduce the risks of transmission of the Coronavirus. We will then be able to ring more safely. Returning to ringing will be gradual. This is the first of a set of a six guidance notes to help with that gradual return.

These guidance notes cover the Health and Safety Executive’s Five Steps to risk assessment.

Step 1: Identify the hazards

Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how

Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

Step 4: Record your findings and implement them

Step 5: Review your risk assessment and update if necessary

Step 1: Identify the Hazards

The specific hazard we are concerned with is the risk of catching and/or transmitting the Coronavirus. Features of the Coronavirus that are important to ringers are:

  • It spreads through droplets, particularly from sneezes and coughs
  • These droplets can land on any surface and survive there for periods of up to 72 hours
  • It also spreads through aerosol transmission, so the virus hangs in the air much in the same way as an air freshener does. This is invisible and only ventilation will disperse it
  • Our chance of inhaling the virus depends on distance from the source, the time we spend near that source, and the time we spend in an indoor space
  • We can easily pick up the droplets on our hands and carry them to our own face, or move them to another object from which someone else might pick up the virus.
  • It has a far longer incubation period than influenza and while incubating the disease one can spread it to others very easily
  • There is asymptomatic transmission – you can have the disease without knowing it and transmit it to others
  • There was no pre-existing natural immunity in the community and there is no vaccine
  • As a result of all of the above, it’s highly infectious – much more so than seasonal ‘flu. The mortality rates are significant with most fatalities being in men over 55-59, women over 65‑69 years old, and the BAME community.

Also remember that we have not rung the bells for several months so something may have happened in the tower without our knowledge that may cause problems when we start to ring.

Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how

The characteristics of bell ringing exposes ringers to risks which we need to address and mitigate.

What are the particular features of ringing which increase the risk?

  • We ring close together
  • Many ringing rooms have little or no ventilation
  • Some ringing rooms are up narrow staircases
  • We touch lots of things that others touch in the course of normal ringing
  • Many ringers are in higher risk groups, as are other church users

Ringing Environments
This Coronavirus thrives in airless environments, where it can settle on a smooth damp wall

There are five other guidance notes published alongside this one. Steps 3 and 4 are covered within these, while step 5 is a continual process of review to which all this guidance is subjected.

Making your tower as safe as possible
How can you make your tower a safe place to ring during the Covid-19 pandemic (covering Step 3)

Checklist for recommending ringing
Guidance for steeplekeepers and tower captains  (covering Step 3 and Step 4)

Running safe ringing sessions
Guidance for those running ringing

Can I go ringing safely?
Guidance for individual ringers

How bell ringers are assessing risk
Managing the risk of Coronavirus in bell towers – for Incumbent and Churchwardens

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