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Southern Daily Echo, 'Testing gravestones in cemeteries' - Phil Scott, Director of HSE East and South East responds

The Editor
The Southern Daily Echo

8 September 2005


I would like to take the opportunity to correct the statement in the Southern Daily Echo (2 September) that HSE has ordered Southampton council chiefs to test every gravestone in the city's cemeteries.

As your articles rightly point out, toppling gravestones have, on rare occasions, caused injuries to the public, some of them very serious. This is a risk that needs to be properly managed. Local authorities are doing this by a programme of inspection, testing and taking sensible precautions to ensure the memorials are safe. This involves them following their own industry guidance, such as that produced by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, and the British Standard that sets out procedures for testing stability.

In June last year the Chair of the Health and Safety Commission, Bill Callaghan, wrote to all local authority Chief Executives when, in a few cases, an overly risk-averse approach was being taken and communication with families and the public had not been handled as well as it might. He urged them to check they are following their industry guidance diligently so that the issue is handled in a proportionate and sensitive manner.

The safety of memorials is an example of the wider need for sensible health and safety, where authorities seek to manage risks rather than unrealistically try to eliminate them altogether. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to significant risks in the hope that they'll manage themselves. But equally we must avoid taking overly zealous approaches where blanket rules are insensitively applied.

Yours faithfully

Phil Scott

HSE Director,
FOD East and South East

Updated 2013-01-23