Responsibility for the safety of a memorial rests upon three parties:
The purchaser/owner of the memorial.
The mason/erector of the memorial.
The condition and inherent safety of a memorial during its entire lifespan are the responsibilities of the purchaser or his/her heirs. It is a good idea to look at the memorial to assess what risk it carries:
- How tall is it?
- How big is the base?
- How likely is it to fall? (some shapes are less likely than others)
- If it fell, what damage could it do (to a child for example)?
If you are worried about the likelihood of your memorial falling please contact us, as cemetery staff are always willing to advise and will arrange for our checkers to carry out a test for you which you may attend, or not, as you wish. Or you could consult your local stonemason, or contact the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) .
Insuring your memorial will guard against damage to third parties and also to the stone itself, and is strongly recommended. Your stonemason may have details of companies specialising in this type of insurance or again contact NAMM.
If the right of interment in the grave (and consequently the right to erect a memorial) you think you own was in fact purchased by your parents or grandparents, and a transfer of ownership was not carried out at the time of the purchaser's death, you will need to contact us to arrange a transfer before being able to employ a stonemason* to carry out any remedial work.
The stonemason is the agent and has a duty of care to manufacture, supply and erect a monument in accordance with the regulations set out by the land-owner, on behalf of the owner. Therefore any instability due to bad workmanship or failure to comply with the code of practice specified by the Council, or cemetery regulations, will be his responsibility.
The Council requires all contractors working on their property to carry £5,000,000 public liability insurance, to sign an undertaking that they will comply with NAMM recommended methods of installation and to provide details of their Health & Safety policy and procedures (or sign up to those required of council staff) .
*Stonemasons complying with these requirements are classed as 'authorised stonemasons' and anyone not complying will not be allowed into the council's cemeteries.
Bath and North East Somerset Council, being both land-owner and responsible for the safety of staff working in (and visitors to) its cemeteries, is committed to taking a number of Health & Safety measures.
As from the 1st October 2001, all memorials allowed into a Council cemetery were (and continue to be) erected in compliance with the code of practice specified by NAMM. Any existing memorials removed for additional inscriptions or remedial work have to be re-erected in accordance with the code of practice.
And, to ensure that existing memorials (which may not have been erected using this code) are safe the Council is carrying out a comprehensive testing programme. The process follows the guidance and procedures for the inspection of memorials issued by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM).
This entails visual inspection followed by physical testing i.e. a trained member of staff* standing at one side of a headstone, placing a hand on the top of the stone and applying a firm (not severe), steady pressure. Slight movement will be monitored over a period of time, as will stones with a pronounced lean (more than 2" from the vertical).
Where any memorials are considered to be unstable, staff will:
- Notify the owner by letter on the same day as the test (if still living).
- Attach a warning sign to the memorial.
- Prop with a wooden stake if in an open cemetery (Haycombe or Harptree) or lay the memorial down with the inscription clearly visible if in a closed cemetery or churchyard.
All these measures have been agreed with the Chancellor and Diocese of Bath and Wells and Faculties have been granted to enable memorials to be made safe as detailed above.
*Please note that all cemeteries staff have been fully trained and are re-trained every three years to keep abreast of new techniques and best practice. Under no circumstances should members of the public attempt this themselves. Apart from the risk of injury, they inevitably apply pressure from the wrong angle resulting in the mistaken belief that their memorial is safe, causing them even more distress when that is found not to be the case.
Since memorial testing programmes began around the late 1990's/early 2000's, injuries due to accidents in cemeteries have dropped to the point where the major benefit of testing memorials is for the memorials themselves. A memorial that has been laid down, propped up or cordoned off is intact and available for future restoration, whilst one which has been left to drop (or be kicked over by vandals) is usually smashed beyond repair - not to mention residual damage to adjacent memorials.
Where 'Friends' groups exist, a project to restore and re-erect memorials is a very worthwhile undertaking. Bereavement Services staff are very keen to promote and support this - spending their working lives in cemeteries does not result in a wish to see every memorial laid down, but in the aspiration to conserve our local history/architecture whilst at the same time providing managed, ecologically beneficial spaces where visitors can go for peace and quiet, or to enjoy native flora and fauna.
Sadly some very responsible organisations, the media and others are often loud in their condemnation of memorial safety testing and have very little knowledge of what type of memorial is most likely to be unsafe or how the process is carried out. For example really old headstones with no base can often be found in older cemeteries or churchyards leaning at angles of 45 degrees or more, but these are monoliths with a third of their height deeply embedded in the soil - they are very unlikely to fail a safety test. Whilst conversely, crosses standing proudly, and apparently safely, on enormous plinths will quite possibly move at the slightest touch and are easily the most vulnerable type of memorial - the small base was attached to the plinth often with no more than a splodge of cement, long since disintegrated - the higher the plinth(s), the harder the fall (and the greater the damage to surrounding memorials). Many memorials produced in the sixties are less than robustly erected - presumably in line with other building standards of the time! - and are prone to fall and shatter.
To obtain further information and insight contact the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Managers (ICCM).