Review into headstone safety practices to be undertaken

Published: 31st March 2023

A review is to be undertaken by Scottish Borders Council to inform changes to the way headstones in local cemeteries are made safe when they are found to be at risk of falling or being pushed over.

Aim to improve overall safety of headstones 

A refreshed policy will follow which will aim to improve on the overall safety of headstones which are installed, develop a more efficient system for communicating with lair holders & family members and seek to raise awareness around headstone safety within cemeteries.

Trial pilot scheme re-erecting headstones in Lennel 

To help inform the new policy, a trial pilot study within Lennel Cemetery near Coldstream will see the re-erection of 81 headstones which were laid flat as part of the Council’s ongoing headstone safety programme.

The pilot will seek to determine a way forward for headstone safety management by examining the costs and resources required to undertake re-erection works in-house. It will commence in early summer 2023 and will be followed by a further report to Council later in the year which will outline future proposals and consider implications for the Council and lairholders. 

Current safety insepction programme to recommence 

Whilst the review of headstone safety practices is undertaken, it has been agreed that the Council’s current headstone safety inspection programme will resume and is expected to be completed by autumn this year.

The most recent programme of inspections has been informed by Government Guidance that was published in 2019 following the fatality of an eight year old boy in Glasgow in 2015 as a result of being hit by a falling headstone.

A five-year programme has been running since 2018 and has prioritised cemeteries based on criteria including footfall, number of interments and places of active worship to manage risk and to ensure the safety of the public.

The resumption will allow safety assessments to be undertaken on over 7,000 remaining headstones which have not yet been reviewed as part of the programme. To date only 3.9% of the almost 40,000 headstones that have been tested have been laid flat.

Cemeteries that will be tested between now and autumn

  • Lilliesleaf – Newer Section
  • Wairds – Section C & D (Melrose)
  • Shawfield – Section M (Selkirk)
  • Heatheryett (Galashiels)
  • Ladhope (Galashiels)
  • Ashkirk New Cemetery
  • Kirkhope – Plans 3 & 4
  • Rosebank New Cemetery (Kelso)
  • Castlewood Extension (Jedburgh)
  • Wilton New Sections (Hawick)
  • Innerleithen New Section
  • Peebles New Section

Prior to any work being undertaken, the Council will issue communications to relevant community councils and the general public to raise awareness of the programme.

Lairholders and family members who wish to discuss any matters relating to headstones can contact the council’s bereavement team on 0300 100 1800.

Councillor John Greenwell, Executive Member for Roads Development and Maintenance:

“The range of proposals outlined represent a commitment to undertaking a full review of our practices in relation to headstone safety management in order to identify better ways of operating this service.

“We are extremely aware of how emotive a subject our headstone testing programme can be and whilst it is not the responsibility of the Council to maintain and repair headstones, we do have a legal obligation to ensure our cemeteries are safe for people to use and work in.

“The trial pilot in Lennel will be a valuable opportunity to examine the cost implications of re-erecting headstones for the Council and will inform future changes to the service.

“Laying headstones flat is only ever done when they present an immediate risk to public safety and I would like to assure the public that all the work we undertake is done in a sensitive and respectful manner and only ever by fully trained staff.”