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Health and safety applies to the dead too
Posted by David Cant on August 3, 2015
1 Comment

Health and safety applies to the dead too

Health and safety in the graveyardHealth and safety issues have led the headlines in recent weeks. A major rollercoaster crash at the Alton Towers theme park caused four young people to be seriously injured, closing the venue for several days as an HSE inspection got under way.

However there was also trouble brewing in the North East when Durham County Council undertook a health and safety assessment of the graveyard at Coundon. Relatives were shocked to find that many headstones had been uprooted by inspectors and laid flat on the ground, whilst others had been identified as needing to be removed.

A serious matter, handled badly

It may sound crazy conducting a health and safety assessment for an area “inhabited” by the dead, but because graveyards are visited by the general public, the local authority has a responsibility for ensuring the safety of family members visiting the graves of their loved ones. The inspection was triggered after an eight year old boy was killed by a falling tombstone in Glasgow.

Relatives claim that the council’s inspection technique involves applying bodily force to every headstone in the graveyard. Those that are loose, or deemed otherwise unsafe, are then uprooted and laid flat until it can be refitted properly, or replaced with a safer alternative.

However some believe that the inspections themselves are to blame for many of the stones being deemed unsafe. Previously sturdy stones have been loosened as inspectors push heavily against them. The latest round of inspections at Coundon saw 14 of the 300 headstones on site declared as dangerous.

But what seems to have upset graveyard visitors the most, is that they were completely unaware such inspections were taking place. Durham County Council’s health and safety team routinely travel around all of the county’s graveyards, testing and assessing headstones, tombs and other structures to ensure they pose no risk to visitors.

It is entirely possible that relatives are told about the inspections when arranging funerals, but this fact is lost amongst the grief and stress of the process. But for anyone outside that process, there is little or no notice available the inspections. There does not appear to be any signs posted at the entrance to the cemeteries advising people about the inspections and potential outcomes either.

The Coundon headstones controversy may sound like a case of elf n’ safety, but the fact that someone was killed by one recently serves to underline the importance of carrying out these routine checks. To make the process smoother, and to avoid negative headlines, Durham County Council needs to find a way of carrying out checks that respects the sensibilities of grieving relatives.

Aside from posting clear notices about the process and what is involved, the council could also consider writing to relatives to let them know an inspection is taking place. More importantly they could contact family when a headstone has been deemed unsafe, rather than waiting for them to find out on their next visit, or via social media.

Health and safety assessments are vital and unavoidable – but the way in which they are undertaken can be softened according to the situation.


David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner extraordinaire. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the MD of Veritas Consulting. David also Blogs about Health and Safety here Health and Safety Consultants

His aim is to flavour Health and Safety with integrity, served with a side of humour You can find David on - Twitter and Google also Linkedin

This post has been filed in: Health and Safety Consultancy, Health and Safety Services

One Comment

  1. September 21, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Very true that such checks can be handled sensitively without the authoritarianism usually associated with Local Authorities.
    It should also be done proportionately, using simple strain gauges, rather than brute force to try and topple them.
    We have many leaning grave stones in our local churchyard, some near 45 degrees, but they are thin slate, not granite obelisks and it’s not a playground for children.

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