Nottingham City Council is carrying out inspections of headstones in council-run cemeteries. Find out more about the inspections and get to know more about the inspections and what to expect.
The Health and Safety Commission has advised all local authorities and clergy responsible for churchyards to check that their cemeteries are safe to visiting members of public. The council can not sit back waiting for an accident to occur before taking action. Unfortunately, elsewhere in the country there have been a number of fatalities and injuries involving unsafe memorials.
By virtue of their size and weight, the larger and heavier upright headstones can cause the greatest damage and injury if they fall. However, the smaller headstones on newer graves are still of sufficient weight to seriously injure anyone they fall on. The degree of danger also relates to the method of fixing as traditional cement and dowels is subject to deterioration over time. Some of the large headstones can be seen leaning but, when tested, are found to be secure and safe. Other headstones, which appear on visual inspection to be upright and safe, can be found to be loose on their base, or the base loose on the foundation, and are therefore unsafe. It is only by controlled testing that we can establish the degree of danger of an individual memorial.
An upright headstone will be visually assessed and then tested by palm pressure. If the palm pressure does not produce any movement then the memorial will be deemed safe. A pressure of 25kg (using an industry specific tool known as a "Topple Tester") may be applied if the safety of a memorial becomes a dispute. This force is the nationally accepted limit that a memorial should be able to withstand. It would replicate the force exerted by a person holding on to the memorial to pull themselves up from kneeling at the graveside. If the headstone moves at any point of the testing, it is unsafe and the council must take immediate action to eliminate the danger.
Depending on size, type and ground conditions, we will make it safe by either:
- Providing a make safe support system
- Lowering the memorial into the ground by a third of its height
- Laying the memorial down on the grave, with the inscription uppermost
- Cordoning off very large memorials and seeking the opinion of a structural engineer
Notices are on display throughout the cemeteries, and all the local clergy have been informed so that they may pass on the information to parishioners. Local Councillors have been informed. Notices and lists of Memorials affected will be available to view soon.
The Council will endeavour to contact the last known grave owner if the information held is less than 30 years old. We will not write to anyone where the information is older than this, because we have no way of knowing if the owner has since died themselves and would not wish to distress relatives in this respect. Most people do not think to advise the cemetery office when they change address, or when they inherit the rights to a grave from a relative's estate. We can only contact you if we know who and where you are. You may provide us with your details by either contacting our cemetery office on 0115 8761979 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The responsibility for and the costs attached to the repair or re-fixing of a memorial rest with the grave owner or his or her descendants. The work must be carried out by a memorial mason currently registered with the National Association of Memorial Masons or the British Register of Accredited Memorial Masons. Any upright headstone to be re-fixed must now have a ground anchor system fitted to ensure its future safety.
Each memorial will be categorised when it is inspected. It may require immediate action to make it safe, it may give some cause for concern but not be an immediate danger in which case it will be inspected in one year's time, or it may be secure and will be re-inspected in five years' time. Ongoing inspections will now be a regular part of our work.
Inspections will be ongoing, as mentioned above. All new memorials must now be fitted with a ground anchor system so they will not cause a danger at some point in the future.
Memorials are being tested by "in house" qualified colleagues who have been carefully selected for their expertise and experience in this area. The testing and pressure exerted are being carried out to nationally accepted standards adopted by those responsible for cemeteries all over the country. If your headstone can not withstand 25kg, it will not withstand someone holding it to pull themselves up or a small child climbing on it. Grave owners often do not realise that they have chosen to erect a memorial on the grave and it is their responsibility. Individuals as well as council officers may be prosecuted if there is an accident. The council can not use public money to fund repairs to what is essentially a grave owner's personal property.
Our colleagues at the cemetery will be happy to help you with all information to make the memorial safe again if it has been found to be unsafe. Those advised should be aware of the potential dangers and harm it could cause. Cemetery colleagues will always advise the public to use an approved mason to re-erect memorials to the highest national standards; if this is ignored by the owner then they could be liable for any injury it has caused. See local cemetery colleagues for more details, they are there to help you and protect you. Nottingham City Council strongly recommends that headstones be insured against vandalism, storm damage and accidental damage.
Permission to fix a memorial would not normally be granted as Nottingham City Council has a duty to ensure anyone who enters the site to carry out works, such as a memorial mason, do so in a safe manner and in such a way so that others who are using the cemetery will not be put at risk. Memorial Masons are legally liable for the work that they carry out, and should ensure that the memorials are fixed to the required standard using the correct fittings, all in accordance with the City Council's Memorial Mason Licence Scheme and with NAMM (National Association of Memorial Masons) Code of Working Practise. Under this scheme, the council also insist that the work carried out by the mason is covered by a 10 year guarantee.