For safety reasons we test the stability of headstones and memorials in council-managed cemeteries. Plot owners should complete a plot owner contact form (see below) so we can keep you informed of testing relating to your memorial.
Background to memorial safety testing
Since Victorian times, memorials have been erected at the head of graves as a permanent reminder of those buried within. It has often been wrongly assumed that memorials are permanent structures, installed to the highest standards, and will last forever without any need for repair.
Unfortunately, this assumption has cost the lives of six people in the past 12 years, most of whom have been children, and there have been countless accidents ranging from bruising to severe crush injuries and bone breakages.
Following research into memorial safety it is clear that cemetery managers now have to tackle years of neglect and poor workmanship, despite the fact that the memorials do not belong to them - they are still the property of the owner of the grave rights. Research has shown that the average length of time that relatives actively visit graves is only about 10 years, so we have a huge task trying to contact all our plot owners.
Why we test memorials
Cemetery managers have a responsibility, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to ensure that risks within their cemeteries are properly managed. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is concerned about memorial stability and has brought in requirements for burial authorities to inspect memorials at least every five years, making safe any memorials that fail the inspection process, by supporting them with wooden stakes or by carefully lying them flat on the grave with the inscription facing upward.
How we test memorials
We perform a risk assessment on all the 8,000 headstones and memorials in our four cemeteries. The safety testing is to assess whether memorials can withstand a reasonable pressure, such as that which may be applied to the memorials by users of the cemetery - for instance, should they slip and use the memorial to try to stabilise themselves.
The safety testing involves visually inspecting the memorials for signs of instability and testing them by hand.
Those headstones and memorials that are found to be unsafe may be made safe with a temporary stake or laid flat with the inscription facing upward.
What you need to do
- Keep your contact details up to date:
We need to ensure that we have up to date contact details for all plot owners, so that we can let you know about testing your memorial.
- Plot owner contact form (PDF 125KB)
- Be aware that cemeteries are potentially dangerous places.
Visitors to cemeteries should keep to footpaths, avoid touching any memorials and ensure that children are supervised at all times.
We understand that this may be upsetting for you, and are sorry for any distress that this may cause. However, it is a procedure that must be undertaken to ensure public safety in accordance with the Public Liability Act 1951, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1984.
If your memorial has to be made safe you can choose to either:
- Take no further action - if we have used a stake to support the memorial, it will be laid flat after six months.
- Have the memorial repaired - you will need to arrange installation with a BRAMM or NAMM registered stonemason, for which the mason will charge a fee.
Please do not attempt to repair or remove memorials yourself, they are very heavy and for your own safety, and that of others, only registered stone masons should carry out this kind of work.
If you have any concerns or questions about the testing, please see a member of the Cemeteries staff, or call 01442 228066.