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Last updated 22nd January 2021

Churchyard safety

This section covers all aspects of safety in a church graveyard including churchyard inspections, carrying out remedial work on gravestones and covers both the legal side and the practical details

'Boy, 5, airlifted to hospital with head injuries after gravestone falls on him'

This was a headline in October 2016 following an incident in a churchyard in one of the Lancaster Archdeaconry's parishes. The incident highlights the need for PCCs to exercise reasonable care in managing their churchyards.

Whilst a PCC cannot guarantee the safety of all memorials, a regular and fully documented safety inspection programme will go a long way to fulfilling the PCC’s legal obligations.

Slip, trip and fall hazards in burial grounds

Ecclesiastical Insurance have worked with Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) to provide information and advice to people responsible for the management of burial sites including church and chapel yards, cemeteries and green burial grounds, predominantly in England and Wales.  There is much more help and guidance on looking after these grounds on their web site.

Avoiding accidents in burial grounds

Graveyards and burial grounds are often visited by many people from families of those buried there to people who are just looking for a quiet place to wander.  It is important that churches do pay attention to these areas and ensure that they have addressed issues such as the possibility of slips, trips and falls, caused by common issues such as uneven ground, horizontal grave kerbs and broken headstones.

Make sure that broken graves and broken kerbs are removed, repaired or replaced and where graves are no longer visited or rarely visited, such as the old part of a churchyard that the following activities are completed:

  • Close mow grass paths regularly
  • Maintain close mown paths to any frequently visited graves
  • Erect signs requesting that people keep to the mown paths
  • Document any health and safety actions to manage the site
  • Review and revise any actions and documentation on a regular basis

A Diocesan Guidance note is available for PCCs. This is the Health and Safety in churchyards and burial grounds – a general guide. This document was issued in 2006 and is due to be updated in 2021.

Ecclesiastical have also produced  more detailed guidance 

Churchyard Regulations, Safety Inspection of Graveyards and Memorials, along with Faculty downloads can be found on the Diocesan website here.

Working Guidance for inspection and remedial work on Church Gravestones

This working guidance contains further detailed information on the inspection and remedial work on gravestones. It covers the gravestone safety inspection techniques, the specific faults that are found on gravestones and the remedial work that may be required for different types of gravestone.

It covers safety aspects and risks and provides guidance on the procedures to be followed to allow families to be notified.

It provides guidance on the administration and financial issues associated with making gravestones safe and has examples of notices and letters that may be required as part of the inspection.

There are legal issues which need to be respected when carrying out inspections and remedial work to gravestones in a churchyard. In general the local church can carry out inspections and necessary repairs to make a gravestone safe. But there are limitation to this work.

There are two legal documents which describe the faculty associated with these limitations, which should be referred to before undertaking work in church graveyards.

Safety Inspection of Graveyards and Memorials - Practice Direction (January 2020)

General Faculty for the Safety Inspection of Graveyards and Memorials (March 2020)

Health and Safety in Churchyards (2006)

Trees

Trees need to be inspected on a regular basis by the church wardens and every 5 years by a qualified tree surgeon. Trees overhanging gravestones are a particular worry as the cost of repairing damaged gravestones might be significantly more than the cost of cutting down trees or removing branches. Tree roots also might uproot gravestones and damage stone walls so that they become unsafe.

For helpful advice on choosing a tree work contractor, please see the document below

Checklist for choosing a Treework Contractor for work on church land.

Produced by Mr Ken Linford (DAC Tree Consultant)