All buildings need to be looked after, and Churches and other Places of Worship are no exception. There are many different kinds of maintenance work that might need to be done in a Place of Worship which may range from changing a plug through to major structural works. In any case, it is important that the works are correctly planned to prevent harm to people and the building.
It can sometimes be dangerous for work to be done by DIY - specialist skills and expertise are often needed. In some cases, there are legal restrictions that mean that you need to use qualified people. It can also be the case that the building is permanently damaged through well-meaning DIY efforts.
This page covers some of the basic issues, but larger projects (covered by the notification requirements under the Construction (Design and Management) regulations) are not considered as these would be managed by a 'CDM Co-ordinator'.
There are a number of items that must be tested and maintained for safety. This might be by routine testing, preventative maintenance routines or inspections by a competent person.
For example, consider a fire extinguisher. Throughout the life of the extinguisher, it probably will not get a second glance, but in an emergency it needs to work first time. This is why extinguishers should be checked by a reputable company on a routine basis, and visually inspected periodically for signs of damage and misuse or simply to check that nobody has moved it.
For more details, please refer to the Maintenance Schedule page.
Safety and maintenance
There are many additional hazards that are posed when maintenance work is being done on any building. In some cases, the risks of people being harmed are considerably higher due to equipment or substances that are in use during the work, which might not be familiar to those using it.
It is essential that suitable Risk Assessments are done and controls put into place to limit the risks of harm to people, including members of the public or others who might be affected by the work.
An assessment should be carried out not only to make sure that people are not harmed during the work, but that they are also not affected by the changes after the works have finished. For example, consider if the works affect fire protection (such as the fire-stopping of cables and pipes) or need the fire detection system to be reconfigured due to new room layouts.
A good way to limit the risks during the works is to select a competent contractor or person to do the work. Some smaller maintenance tasks, like wiring a plug or changing a tap washer can be completed by anybody who is considered 'competent' for that task (competence being a measure of training, experience and knowledge). Some other tasks would require a contractor to be employed.
Contractors need to be suitable qualified and competent, and a good way to check this is to make sure that they are a member of a reputable trade organisation. For example, look for a Gas Safe gas fitter and check that this covers non-domestic premises.
With some kinds of work, you might need to meet certain regulations or specifications. A good example of this is when a fire alarm system is installed and detectors need to be put is suitable places. In these cases, ensure that the contractor is competent to design, as well as install, the equipment.
Note that projects where work is being undertaken for more than 30 days or 500 man-hours of work need special attention. With such projects, it is important to appoint a 'CDM Co-ordinator' who will oversee the work.
A special hazard in many buildings is Asbestos. In the past, asbestos was used in many different areas of construction from fire protection through to insulation and general building materials. It can appear in many different places from boilers and heaters to fire doors and old fire blankets.
You need to identify if you have any asbestos in your Place of Worship, and then work out the risk of fibres being released to the air. You do not have to automatically remove the asbestos from the building if it can be sealed or encapsulated to reduce the risk of airborne particles being released.
The danger with asbestos is from the dust. Dust can be released by drilling, sanding or disturbing asbestos and asbestos containing materials. You will also have to inform contractors if there is asbestos in the building. This is so that they know if there are any precautions that they need to take when they start working on the building.
If there is any doubt whatsoever if a material contains asbestos, it should be treated as if it does. Independent testing in a laboratory is useful, but is not always necessary. However, a large number of tasks involving the removal of Asbestos do have to be done by a licenced contractor.
Lead has been popular as a general building material, for water pipes and many other uses. Lead water pipes should be removed, especially if they supply water to taps, baptismal pools and suchlike, but rainwater goods are probably best left in place for architectural reasons. Heating systems might operate perfectly well using lead pipes, but these should be replaced if possible for modern alternatives such as steel or copper.
There has been some concern of late over the use of lead in organs. With new regulations being brought in to limit the use of certain 'hazardous substances', lead might not be used in new organ pipes. For organs in use, there should be little, if any, risk to people. If organ pipes are known to contain lead and are accessible, it would be wise to ensure that people cannot touch the lead, perhaps by using a cover or barrier (which can be removed when the instrument is being used) .
Lead is also used for roofing and as 'flashing' to provide water resistance. In a similar way to organ pipes, there is no reason why this should cause concern especially if this is out of the reach of people. Maintenance staff, on the other hand, should be notified of the problem and protective measures taken, including gloves, barrier creams and ensuring that hands are washed after work and before breaks.
Ladders and steps
Ladders and steps are often used when buildings are being maintained. When used correctly, ladders are a safe means to work at height for short duration work. However, alternative means of access might need to be considered when working at very high levels, or for prolonged periods of time. It goes without saying that work at height should be avoided, so if a task can be carried out at ground level, this would be preferred.
Before using any ladder or step ladder, carefully check over it for damage. Wooden ladders might be cracked or otherwise damaged or show signs of rotting or woodworm. Aluminium ladders might be badly warped or heavily tarnished. It is important that repairs or modifications must not be carried out on ladders, instead they should be discarded and a new one bought.
Ladders must be secured so that they do not slip. It might be possible to tie the top of the ladder or someone can hold the base. Brackets and other stabilising hardware are available which usually fix to the base of the ladder and these are highly recommended. Make sure that the angle of the ladder is correct: If the ladder is four metres high, the base should be out from the wall by one metre.
Step ladders must be used on level ground, and they need to be opened out fully (there is often a catch that needs to be locked in place). On many step ladders, the top platforms is not a step, but it is a shelf on which to put tools etc... If this is the case, do not stand on the top platform.
Note that people are at risk from falling objects when ladders are in use. Take care so that members of the public and others nearby cannot be harmed by accidentally falling objects and never throw things from the top of a ladder. When working on a ladder or steps, do not overreach because you could fall.