Headstone testing


Who is responsible for cemeteries and headstones?

We are responsible for the safety of 154 cemeteries which contain over 90k headstones. However, the responsibility for maintaining any headstone lies with the lair holder.

General enquiries 

Contact us and we can answer any questions you have relating to headstones. You can also contact our bereavement team on 0300 100 1800. 

How do you decide where to test?

We have a procedure which includes a five year rolling programme of inspections using a phased approach, with sections of cemeteries categorised based on footfall, age, location and other factors. All headstones will be tested within this programme of inspections.

Are some headstones more dangerous than others?

By virtue of their size and weight the larger and therefore heavier upright headstones can cause significant damage and injury if they fall but the smaller headstones are still of sufficient weight to cause serious injury. 

The degree of danger also relates to how the headstone is fixed into the ground. Traditional cement and dowels are subject to deterioration over the years.  

Headstones that are leaning forwards or backwards can be found to be secure when tested and therefore cause no immediate danger to the public. Yet, headstones which appear on a visual inspection to be upright and safe can be found to be loose when tested and are therefore unsafe. It is only by controlled testing by trained operatives that we can establish the safety of an individual headstone.

What do you do to test the safety of a headstone?

Each headstone inspection should be considered a unique risk assessment, with the size of the headstone not influencing the fact that each headstone has to be subjected to an inspection. Any potential hazard presented by the headstone may not be solely related to its height or weight.

The first stage is a visual inspection and this checks the general condition of a headstone and identifies any obvious signs of damage, wear and tear or lean. It also includes an assessment of the foundation, where visible, and the surrounding area such as tree roots and steepness of the ground.  

Once the visual inspection has been completed, a physical assessment is undertaken via a hand pressure test.

We carry out this work with due respect and only where absolutely neccessary.

We do not undertake mechanical tests.

How will we make safe?

Depending on the size, type and ground conditions, we will make safe by either:

  • keeping the headstone upright by digging section into the ground at a lower height, known as socketing. So far the majority of unstable headstones have been made safe using socketing, which means the majority of the inscription is still visible for families and visitors to read. We feel this technique has less of a visual impact on each cemetery and the local environment, while ensuring the headstone is made safe
  • laying flat
  • removing unstable parts of the headstone and placing the removed part at the foot of the headstone

Only very large headstone will be cordoned off and advice from a structural engineer sought.

Why not contact family members directly before testing takes place?

Due to the old age of many of the headstones we are testing, there is now no identifiable owner or next of kin which means we cannot contact all family members directly.

We are testing a huge number of headstones, a total of 39K in the latest programme with a total of 5800 being made safe.

How do I find out if my family's headstone will be tested?

Contact us and we can advise. 

My family's headstone has been made safe - how can I find out more about the process?

If you would like to know more, such as when the test was undertaken and what the results were, you can again contact us.

How can I restore my family's headstone if it has been made safe?

Information about the process of contacting a monumental mason for repair works and a step-by-step process to undertake reinstatement works can be found here. 

How are you making people aware of the testing?

  • we will raise awareness through signage being placed at each affected cemetery at least 28 days in advance of testing
  • we have provided regular updates for stakeholders such as community councils, councillors, MSPs and MPs, churches, family history society and faith groups
  • Regular updates across our social media channels to raise awareness of any upcoming testing scheduled across the towns and villages of the Borders

More information

Contact us if you want to discuss the inspection programme.