Last updated 26th June 2023
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. For general advice on churchyards and trees please click here.
'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.
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:
More information on churchyard maintenance and safety can be found below:
Churchyard Regulations can be found on the Diocesan website here.
Inspecting the churchyard for dangerous structures and guidance on how to undertake works to 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.
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.
Ecclesiastical Insurance offers helpful advice for looking after the trees in your churchyard here.
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 Adviser)