Jury recommends changes to building regulations after inquest into death of little boy

All parts of stone fireplaces should be mechanially attached to walls

A jury has recommended a change in Irish building regulations to ensure stone fireplaces are securely fixed to walls after hearing how a five-year-old boy was killed when a heavy marble mantelpiece and fireplace came loose and toppled down on him.

The jury at the inquest into the death of Fionn Dawson returned a verdict of accidental death and recommended the introduction of a specific building regulation that all component parts of stone fireplaces being mechanically fixed to the wall.

The jury at Cork City Coroner's Court heard how Fionn was killed instantly when a marble fireplace at the Dawson family home at Coolgreen, Glanmire, Co Cork toppled over and fell upon him causing him a serious brain injury on April 30th 2013.

Engineer, Kieran Spitere who examined the scene of the accident, said that there had been mechanical fixings holding the two legs of the marble fireplace to the wall but there were no mechanical fixings or straps holding the mantlepiece which weighed 67kg.

Mr Spitere said that there were no building standards in either Ireland or Britain governing the fitting of fireplaces and there was nothing in the Irish building regulations setting out what builders had to do to properly secure fireplaces.

However on the day of Fionn’s accident, April 30th 2013, the Health and Safety Executive in the UK issued an alert to builders to provide adequate fixings for all components of stone or artificial stone fireplaces after two recent incidents in the UK in which children had died.

“Designers of modular stone fireplace surrounds should ensure that their design incorporates or includes fixings that are suitable for a range of locations and are able to be installed on to a variety of floor and wall types,” said the HSE in the UK.

The inquest had heard evidence how Absolute Homes had come to install a new two way facing fire in the Dawson house in December 2012 and had removed the entire marble fireplace which weighed over 150 kgs to facilitate the work.

Builders, John Connaughton and Shane O'Brien of Absolute Homes both testified they had installed the new fire and then re-installed the existing marble fireplace using the original four metal strappings, anchoring the two legs of the fireplace into the adjacent masonry wall.

They said they had put in new longer screws on the metal fittings to hold the legs securely to the wall and they had put dabs of Tech 7 adhesive to the back of the mantelpiece to secure it to the chimney breast as was standard procedure as there no metal fixings on the mantlepiece.

Fionn's father, Cormac Dawson told how he had contacted Absolute Homes owner, Conor McNamara on April 6th after he noticed a gap at the top of the fireplace and felt there was a bit of give in the fireplace even though he still thought it was secure.

Fionn's aunt, Breda Connery told how she was minding Fionn on the day when she heard a crashing sound in the living room and found him lying on the floor with a serious head injury and the mantelpiece just lying above his head and the rest of the fireplace resting on his body.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster said Fionn died brain swelling, contusion and laceration due to blunt force trauma to the head and that the injuries were so catastrophic that he would have been knocked unconscious and died immediately.

Coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, who heard the DPP had recommended no prosecution after a garda investigation, said she would forward the jury's recommendation to the relevant authorities including the Health and Safety Authority and the Dept of the Environment.

Afterwards, Fionn’s father, Cormac welcomed the jury’s recommendations. “ Nothing is going to bring Fionn back for us but I think it’s a good recommendation. We do need regulations for fireplaces and it’s a good outcome from today if there can be such a thing.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times

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