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 memorial 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 memorials more dangerous than others?

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

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

Memorials that are leaning forwards or backwards can be found to be secure when tested and therefore cause no immediate danger to the public. Yet, memorials 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 memorial.

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

Each memorial inspection should be considered a unique risk assessment, with the size of the memorial not influencing the fact that each memorial has to be subjected to an inspection. Any potential hazard presented by the memorial 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 memorial 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 memorials 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 memorial is made safe
  • laying flat
  • removing unstable parts of the memorial and placing the removed part at the foot of the memorial

Only very large memorials 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 17.5k in the latest programme of testing.

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

Contact us and we can advise. 

My family's memorial 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 memorial if it has been made safe?

You should contact a monumental mason and request their help to restore. We are unable to restore all the headstones and memorials we make safe.

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

More information

Contact us if you want to discuss the inspection programme.