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Memorial safety checks

Do you own a family grave or headstone in Kidderminster Cemetery?

Please take a few moments to read this, it is aimed to help you understand why it is necessary for us to carry out safety inspections on family memorials to ensure a safe environment in our cemetery to visitors and staff.

Do you know anyone who visits a cemetery or owns a memorial? If you do, please advise them to read this information.

Why are we testing memorials?

We need to make sure that memorials are safe. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) want councils to inspect memorials at least once every five years, making safe those that fail the inspection process.

Some cemeteries, that have been found with high numbers of unsafe headstones, have had “improvement notices” placed on them by the HSE. It can result in them being closed down until the cemetery has been made safe. This affects members of the public who wish to visit friends and relatives buried in the cemetery and those who want to hold funerals during this time.

We appreciate that testing and making safe memorials may cause upset to bereaved families, but our priority has to be the safety of those people visiting cemeteries.

How do we test?

The first part of the test is a visual inspection to identify the type of memorial and its condition. The second part is a moderate hand test. If at this point the memorial moves to the slightest degree the inspection stops and the memorial is classified as failed. If the memorial passes the hand test it is then tested with a piece of equipment known as a Topple Tester. This equipment measures the amount of pressure applied at a given point, up to 35kg. If the memorial starts to move before reaching this point the inspection is stopped and the reading on the Topple Tester is recorded and the memorial is classified as failed. If the memorial withstands the 35kg of pressure the memorial is classified as secure.

There are three classifications for the stability of headstones, High Risk being dangerous and requiring immediate action to make it safe and temporarily secure. This also includes a notice being attached to the memorial offering advice and contact details for any persons affected to call. Medium risk memorials also require a notice to be attached to the memorial offering advice and contact details for any persons affected to call. Low risk indicates that there is a weakness in the memorial, but there is no immediate danger and is stable. For any memorial which has been classified High, Medium or Low, we will write to the owners, providing we have up to date records. We will inform them of the safety inspections findings and offer advice.

What do we do if we find a problem?

If there is a problem with the stability of the memorial we will either temporarily stabilise it, fence it off or as a last resort lay the memorial down.

Who is responsible for the safety of a memorial?

Responsibility in the first instance rests with the purchaser or owner of the memorial, or the stonemason or the person who puts the memorial up. In most instances, memorials are many years old and the purchaser/owner has either moved away or has passed on and no family member is currently maintaining it.

Stonemasons who have erected these memorials may also have moved away or retired. The High Court ruled that where a memorial stonemason had erected a tombstone properly it should stand for at least 30 years without repair. However, a lot of the headstones in Kidderminster Cemetery are far older than 30 years.

Ultimately, the responsibility for safety within Kidderminster Cemetery has fallen on Wyre Forest District Council as the landowner.

What have we done to make contact with owners?

The records of many owners are extremely old and have not been updated by current relatives/family members. We are now actively campaigning for memorial owners or visitors to the graves to update current contact details so that we may keep you informed of future memorial inspections. You can contact the Cemetery Office on 01562 732994 between the hours of 9.00am until 10.00am Monday to Friday to update your contact details. You can also call our business support team on 01562 732528.

What do you do if you are advised that your memorial is unsafe?

We understand that this may be upsetting for you, and are really sorry for any distress it may cause. If your memorial has to be laid flat to make it safe you can choose to either:

  1. Leave the memorial lying down; and take no further action (we may need to ‘dig in’ the memorial to remove trip hazards); or
  2. Have the memorial repaired by a Registered Memorial Stonemason.

If your Memorial has had a temporary fixing to make it safe and/or a warning notice attached, you can choose to either:

  1. Have the memorial repaired by a Registered Memorial Stonemason, or
  2. You can give permission for the memorial to be laid down by contacting the cemetery office (the contact details are below) or call our business support team on 01562 732528.

If you choose to have your memorial repaired then please, for your own safety, do not attempt to repair or remove memorials yourself. Only approved Memorial Stonemasons, or cemetery staff where appropriate, should carry out this kind of work to make sure safety standards are complied with.

A list of Registered Memorial Stonemasons can be obtained from:

Carole Howie-Cox
Cemetery Registrar
Green Street Depot
Green Street
DY10 1HA.

Tel: 01562 732994 (between 9am and 10am Monday to Friday), alternatively email the Cemetery Registrar.

What are we doing now?

We are continuing to implement a safety inspection programme of memorials on a five-year rolling programme. We do not underestimate the distress this safety action has caused to many visitors to our cemeteries and we will do all we can to ease the upset.

What do you need to do?

If you are concerned about the safety of your memorial you can arrange for a Registered Memorial Stonemason to inspect your memorial for safety or ask for a safety inspection from a trained member of Cemetery Staff.

Alternatively you can get in touch with:

The National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM)
27a Albert Street
CV21 2SG

Tel: 01788 542264

If you are concerned about your family memorial, or even just for peace of mind, we strongly recommend insurance cover. A Registered Memorial Stonemason will know of a company that offers this.

Keep your contact details up to date with the cemetery office as explained earlier.

Please be aware that cemeteries are potentially dangerous places. Visitors to cemeteries should keep to footpaths, avoid touching any memorials and ensure that children are supervised at all times.

Further information

For further information on headstone testing please contact:

The Institute of Crematorium and Cemetery Management
Tim Morris
Chief Executive
ICCM National Office
City of London Cemetery
Aldersbrook Road
Manor Park
E12 5DQ

Tel: 020 8989 4661
Fax: 01753 770 984

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