Headstone Safety Programme

We have commenced our Memorial Safety Testing Programme, starting at Robin Hood Cemetery and we have completed the first phase of these works across sections A4, A5 and A6. We will, in the New Year, begin phase 2 of our memorial safety testing programme to ensure our cemeteries are a safe space for all visitors.  

We have prioritised those larger headstones that can be found at Robin Hood Cemetery and we will be progressing the work based on a risk assessment of the sites to prioritise any areas considered most dangerous to our visitors.


How many headstones are there altogether in Council owned cemeteries?

In the 3 cemeteries run by the Council there are approximately 20,000 memorial headstones.  

How old are some of them?

The oldest memorials date from the opening of the individual cemeteries. Robin Hood Cemetery opened in 1917, Woodlands Cemetery in 1984, Widney Manor Cemetery in 1992.

Are some likely to be more dangerous than the others?

By virtue of their size and weight the larger and therefore heavier upright headstones can cause the greatest damage and injury if they fall and injure someone. That said, the smaller type of upright headstones found mostly on the more recent 'Lawn' sections are still of sufficient weight to seriously injure any person they fall on, particularly the young or elderly.

The degree of danger also relates to the method of fixing and often the length of time that has elapsed from the date the headstone was erected. Some of the large upright headstones can be seen to be leaning forwards or backwards but when tested are found to be secure and in no immediate danger to the public.

Other headstones, which appear on a visual inspection to be upright and of no danger, can be found to be loose on their base and an immediate danger to the public. It is only by establishing a headstone testing regime to examine each memorial that the degree of danger of an individual headstone can be assessed.

How will the safety test be undertaken and how do you define ‘dangerous’?

Once the plan of works is planned out and schedule then we would carry out the following:

  • Each memorial will be visually assessed 
  • Each memorial will be physically assessed when required
  • Each Memorial will be Risk assessed and categorised in to three areas
  • Each Memorial will be Photographed
  • All information will be audited to ensure no unsafe memorial has been left a danger to the public

If a memorial is found to be an immediate danger, they will be made safe. All testing will be completed in line with the courts’ determined appropriate maximum pressure test to safeguard visitors within the cemetery.

How long will it take?

It is difficult at this initial stage to accurately judge how long the testing programme will take.
We have programmed for this work to take place across the next two years to minimise disruption to service users but to also ensure a robust safety testing programme is underway. 

It is anticipated that the grave owner or his or her descendants will repair a substantial number of these headstones. In due course a decision will have to be taken by the Council as to the action to be taken regarding those memorials still requiring repair at the end of the period.

Why now? Have there been accidents?

Fortunately, there have been no reported incidents of any person having been injured by a falling memorial within one of the Council’s cemeteries. However, it is our responsibility to ensure our grounds are safe for all service users.  

How much does it cost to check them, and who will be responsible for these costs?

The Council has a duty of care to the public entering its cemeteries as owner occupier of the land concerned. The Council will bear the cost of the inspection programme.

What about people who live outside the district? How do they know that their loved ones’ headstones are being checked?

Notices will be placed around the cemeteries as the works are underway to inform visitors and members of the public entering the cemetery of the safety checks.

What method are you going to use to contact families?

Current legislation allows the Council to make safe an immediately dangerous memorial without notification to the grave owner. Regrettably it is impracticable to provide prior written notification to each of the many thousands of grave owners having a headstone on their grave that a memorial safety programme is underway.

Is it safe to visit the cemetery whilst the safety programme is in progress?

It is perfectly safe for relatives and members of the public to visit the cemetery whilst the safety programme is in progress.

How many people will be involved in undertaking the safety inspections?

We have contracted Memsafe to undertake this work on our behalf. Memsafe LTD Inspection and Examination engineers are fully trained, experienced and conversant with all aspects of memorials. They will ensure that Memsafe engineers are aware of all current legislation, instruction or codes of practice and will conduct all inspections accordingly.

All of their inspection teams are fully equipped with the latest technology and equipment; they use the latest up to date inspection test electronic instruments, lifting equipment and techniques to ensure the least possible disturbance occurs. Memsafe employs qualified and experienced Structural Engineers available to assist with any memorials or monuments that require a more detailed inspection. 

Is it likely that a large number of headstones will fail the safety test?

Current reviews have shown a 5% failure rate but this rate may vary subject to the location and age of the memorial.  Our priority has been to safeguard the visitors to the cemetery as our first priority.