RESEARCH INTO MEMORIAL SAFETY 

 

During the last 10 years, JK has been working with several cemetery authorities, the National Association of Memorial Masons and the Association of Burial Authorities to improve standards of safety in cemeteries. Each year 600,000 people die in the UK. Just over 200,000 of them are buried. Half of those have new graves and the remainder are placed as a second or third body in an existing grave. Since the mid 1950's, most graves have been of the lawn memorial variety - a small memorial comprising an upright plate dowelled to a plinth. Usually, they are formed from Indian black marble. The assembly is fixed onto a foundation comprising an arrangement of precast and/or in-situ concrete. A major problem is vandalism - commonly young people enter a cemetery after hours and push or kick over one or more (sometimes dozens) of headstones. It is easily remedied but is distressing to the bereaved. We have developed the "Newcastle Anchor", a device fitted beneath the lawn memorial to prevent this. Several variations are in day to day use and many cemetery authorities require them to be placed beneath each new lawn memorial. We have undertaken testing to assess the strength requirements to withstand reasonable levels of force. Click here to view a report on our testing at Parkside Cemetery, Kendal.

 

By far the most distressing events are the deaths which occur in cemeteries from time to time as older monuments topple, frequently onto children. During the last 10 years, four people have died as a result of memorials toppling. Click on the name for details of the tragic accidents to Alan Bowmer (44), Kerry Conteh (9), David Crossley (9) and Reuben Powell (6). In each case, an old heavy memorial became unstable as a result of the progressive deterioration of its supporting arrangement. A stroll round any old cemetery will reveal the extent of the problem. Many memorials weighing several tons will be leaning precariously and will eventually fall as their supporting bricks or natural stone deteriorates, often through frost attack. Often a child playing football or hide and seek will hold onto a memorial and bring it down inadvertantly.

Cemetery authorities' dilemma

The proprietor of the memorial (the person who bought it) is legally responsible for its future stability. However, graves are now tended for an average of six years and in most accidents, the cemetery authority cannot find the proprietor, so they become liable. Many authorities need to spend millions of pounds to make their cemeteries safe. They can't afford to do this - and if they could it is arguable that more lives would be saved if the money were spent on road safety measures (4 people have been killed in 10 years in cemeteries and 10 people are killed on the roads every day).

 

What should cemetery authorities do?

JK has drawn up a means of cemetery authorities inspecting their sites. Over a five years period, an authority should inspect all of its older memorials and should take action when one or more of the following is found:

Headstone out of alignment by five degrees or more

Headstone or base cracked

Headstone can be moved by one person (see below)

Waterlogged ground

Absence of any component of memorial which formerly contributed to stability

 

Health and Safety Executive have asked Harrogate to undertake this within 2 years. I think this would be too soon for an authority in a major conurbation. Some authorities have bought a "Topple Tester", a device which allows a measured force of 50kg to be applied to a memorial. This could be used to assess the third criterion above.