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.


30. Each memorial inspection can be considered a unique risk assessment. Every risk assessment should be proportionate with the potential risk presented by each memorial. An initial site and zonal risk assessment, noting the types of memorials within the area and which are of a higher risk and requiring inspection, is crucial. This will assist in preparing and implementing appropriate assessment procedures and carrying out any remedial actions necessary to remove an immediate hazard.

31. Each memorial will be subject to inspection. The dimensions (height and width) of an unstable memorial will, however, be relative to its ability to cause serious or fatal injury in the event of failure. Subsequent actions taken are dependent on these dimensions, and in some cases the historic or cultural significance of the memorial.

32. This guidance notes that it will be burial authority staff who will complete all initial memorial inspections. It is expected that such staff will have been given appropriate training and have the required local knowledge in respect of the burial ground layout and local conditions to be able to do so.

33. The information as set out below is not prescriptive and is instead intended to act as a general guide, to assist in the implementation of a wider inspection programme. Full and detailed training from appropriately qualified persons should always be provided to any authority assessors prior to completing an inspection.

Visual Inspection

34. This represents the first stage of any memorial inspection and determines how further inspection or action progresses. Factors such as the dimensions of the memorial, its angle of lean, loose or damaged components and its overall condition will dictate continuing inspection.

35. An initial (360 degree) visual inspection of all sides of the memorial from a safe distance will act as a check of its general condition and identify any obvious signs of damage, wear and tear or lean. Before an assessor approaches the memorial a visual check may be made on any urns, pediments and other ornamentation above shoulder height, if they are present. This initial visual inspection may include an assessment of the foundation (where visible) and the surrounding area e.g. incline, dips, tree roots, vegetation cover etc.

Considerations for visual inspection:

  • Ensure assessors are aware of factors to be considered during visual inspection, and have received appropriate training.
  • Procedures are in place detailing actions to be taken if a physical inspection is deemed unsafe to complete following a visual inspection.
  • Procedures are in place and materials available to implement required 'make safe' precautions.
  • Appropriate methods are in place to record inspection findings and actions taken.
  • Keeping a photographic record to enhance the inspection record.

36. Where a memorial is particularly large e.g. more akin to a structure, or obviously dilapidated, an appropriately trained assessor should decide if the inspection can safely continue or if the memorial should be referred for a more detailed inspection e.g. completed by an external specialist. Appropriate steps should be taken to make the memorial safe at this point until any such further inspection is completed. This assessor may also determine if any other immediate action is required.

Physical Inspection

37. Following a visual inspection where the assessor is satisfied that an inspection can been carried out safely, a physical assessment would normally be completed. For the majority of memorials of a modern construction (e.g. a lawn memorial) this will most commonly involve a hand pressure test by a trained assessor. Prior to applying any pressure test by hand, the assessor should be trained to evaluate the safety of conducting this test e.g. considering the dimensions and proportions of the memorial, its surrounding area and any other factors which may compromise safe completion of the test.

38. Generally, a hand pressure test is the application of gentle pressure in one direction (not a rocking movement) normally administered by applying hand pressure to the top of a memorial plate (the upright section of a headstone). In the case of a modern lawn memorial this would generally be at various heights up to 1200 mm. Where possible and when access and escape route is clear, the same pressure is applied to the other side of a memorial at the same height and in the same manner.

39. In the case of obviously large, very heavy memorials, or for any other reason, a hand pressure test may be of limited benefit for assessment purposes as determined by the assessor. A suitably trained assessor will be able to visually assess potential hazards based on the presentation of other indicators. This may include material damage at pressure points, an angle of lean, the state of memorial joints/foundation or obvious structural defects.

40. If any doubt remains on the state and potential risk presented by a memorial, it should be referred to an expert or specialist for further detailed inspection. The memorial would also be suitably cordoned off as soon as possible, in conjunction with any appropriate temporary measures to make safe, if this is the case.

41. Due to the potential of overestimating the risk posed by a memorial, the routine use of mechanical testing equipment is not recommended for assessing memorials and their safety.

Considerations for physical inspection:

  • Ensure assessors are aware of the factors to be considered during a physical inspection and have received appropriate training, are suitably equipped and appropriately supported.
  • Ensure assessors are fully aware of maintaining their own safety and the safety of others during the entire inspection process. Ensure that assessors are trained on what to do when they discover a suspected or immediate risk.
  • Consider memorial inspections being completed by a minimum of two persons, rather than a single individual. For example, an assessor and recorder, both appropriately trained in memorial inspection. This can allow quality assurance and corroboration to be built into any inspection programme.
  • Does the inspection assessment fully incorporate HSE's 'five steps to risk assessment' principles?


42. It is essential that an accurate record of the outcome of each inspection and any actions taken, including referral, are fully recorded and retained in an accessible and appropriate format. In addition, this record may define a hierarchy for the communication of results to all associated parties e.g. lair owners (where possible), other statutory authorities if relevant, management, staff, visitors etc.

43. Further information is set out in the 'Recording and Communication' section of this guidance.

Making Safe

44. Whilst not prescriptive, the 'Methods of Making Safe' section of this guidance sets out some of the options open to burial authorities to make memorials safe.


45. The frequency of return inspections will need to be well defined. The outcome of each inspection and its assessment record will dictate future interaction with each memorial. To ensure safety of each burial ground, a set programme of re-inspections can be implemented.

46. This guidance notes it is accepted that there are usually two outcomes of any inspection 'pass' or 'fail', with a further element which sits between the two allowing an intermediate rating and flagging for earlier re-inspection.

47. This category system for inspection outcomes may be in the form of a traffic light system e.g. red (fail), amber (pass but flagged for earlier re-inspection e.g. in two years. A date may be recommended and recorded by the assessor at the time of inspection) and green (pass and re-inspect as routine e.g. in five years).

48. Further to the set memorial inspection programme, a burial authority may also have in place procedures for recording concerns or actions raised during the course of completing 'day to day' activities in a burial ground, outwith dedicated memorial inspection. These may also be entered into any memorial assessment record.

49. A suggested period of when to routinely re-inspect is a maximum of five years. It is for each burial authority to decide on the appropriate schedule of re-inspections, but a maximum of five years between routine inspections is considered as best practice by this guidance.

Considerations for re-inspection:

  • Are the frequency of re-inspections sufficient?
  • How are re-inspections recorded?
  • Would setting out a simple risk hierarchy or categorisation system for prioritising memorial re-inspection assist your inspection programme e.g. a traffic light system.
  • Are procedures in place that allow memorials to be re-inspected as required e.g. those flagged for concern but not requiring immediate action.


Email: katrina.mcneill@gov.scot

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