Burial ground memorial safety: local authority guidance

Guidance to assist local authorities meet their obligations to inspect and make safe memorials and headstones in local authority burial grounds.


3. The responsibility for memorial safety and implementation of a comprehensive memorial inspection programme represents a significant undertaking for any local authority. Regardless, the safety of staff and visitors in burial grounds is a statutory obligation for local authorities. This is primarily completed under both the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (as amended) (HSWA1974) and the Occupier's Liability (Scotland) Act 1960.

4. To assist authorities meet such obligations this guidance sets out considerations and practice which local authorities may evaluate and incorporate into their memorial inspection programme. Implementing this guidance may assist local authorities to manage their burial grounds effectively, to minimise the risk of injury that unstable memorials or their components can present to visitors and their staff. This guidance was created in response to recommendations made in January 2018 following a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the death of a child.

5. In considering the recommendations made in the FAI, the Scottish Government examined the feasibility of defining how 'large' memorials should be described and inspected. During discussions with experts involved in burial ground management, it became clear that there are many factors which contribute to the stability of a memorial including height, weight, design, lean, topography, vegetation cover, proximity to other memorials, structures, walls or paths etc. and that guidance on memorial safety should take account of a wide variety of factors.

6. The guidance therefore is not limited to the inspection and maintenance of specific types of memorials e.g. based upon height. It instead addresses the management of all types of memorials, taking into account every factor that may affect a memorial's stability. It sets out that a local authority should fully understand the extent of their burial grounds and account for every memorial within each of those grounds. It advocates an active management programme that means all memorials, regardless of size, are examined and fully inspected relevant to their individual circumstances. It places an emphasis on having in place robust recording and reporting procedures for every memorial inspection including ongoing assessment, to ensure everyone can safely visit burial grounds now and in the future.

7. The Scottish Government, as set out in this guidance, is of the view that to fully achieve the comprehensive and long lasting safety of all memorials within burial grounds, a local authority must understand and have in place the appropriate procedures and processes to achieve and maintain a safe environment for those visiting and working in their grounds. Local authorities will be able to use this guidance to review and reassess current practices, which will facilitate a level of consistency across the local authority burial sector in relation to memorial safety.

8. All 32 Scottish local authorities are burial authorities, operating and managing numerous burial grounds. These grounds may be in-use, receiving new interments and lair purchases, or they may be at capacity, closed cemeteries. Many burial grounds under local authority control are historic and not in use grounds e.g. originally attached to a parish church.

9. Local authorities are ultimately responsible for the vast majority of burial grounds in Scotland. Information collated for the Scottish Government, with co-operation from local authority representatives, indicates that there are at least 2,240 burial grounds which are the responsibility of local authorities. National individual memorial numbers will, as a minimum, be in the hundreds of thousands. Within this number are a huge variety of memorials, presenting further challenges to any memorial management process.

10. Along with local authority burial authorities, Scotland has many other interested and relevant organisations concerned with memorial safety and the wider management of burial grounds. This includes private burial authorities of varying size and business models, statutory bodies such as Historic Environment Scotland (HES), archaeological and conservation societies, cemetery friends groups and local community interest groups.

11. The examples above highlight competing priorities that must be managed during the implementation of any memorial inspection programme. This will include subsequent local authority action to make memorials of all types safe in their burial grounds.

Lair Ownership

12. Local authority burial authorities are responsible for ensuring the safety of those visiting and working in their burial grounds. This means that regular memorial inspections should be carried out to achieve this. However, inspecting and taking action to make safe does not confer ownership. This guidance notes that the responsibility for the full and complete repair of memorials remains the duty of the lair owner.

13. All authorities follow their own procedures for locating and contacting lair owners to inform them of the need for repair, and this guidance sets out suggested methods of doing so. Where a burial authority is unable to locate a lair owner, it is a decision for each authority about what repairs they may carry out on an unsafe memorial, followed by action taken to make that memorial safe.


Email: katrina.mcneill@gov.scot

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