Health and Safety in churchyards – practical guidance
A Parochial Church Council is responsible legally for the care and maintenance of their churchyard(s) and this requirement extends to the safety of the churchyard and, in particular, memorials.
This responsibility also relates to the wider churchyard, including paths and all other areas, often including
boundary walls. Closed churchyards will sometimes come under the remit of the PCC, even if the relevant local authority has taken over maintenance ultimate liability in law remains with the PCC.
There are some simple ways to make sure that risks are minimised:
- Appoint someone to be the PCC’s Health and Safety Offi cer
- Draw up a regular inspection and maintenance programme for the churchyard
- Check headstones to see if they move when pushed. Only minimum pressure should be applied and the use of mechanical ‘topple testers’ should not be entertained. If a headstones moves when pushed, ascertain the level of risk. Is it in danger of falling over? If so, and it has become a risk to the public, it should either be cordoned off or made safe by laying it flat (if possible). Any permanent change to a memorial will require a faculty and the consent, if possible, of the heirs at law (the family who own the memorial)
- Kerbstones around graves can be a trip hazard but should not be removed unless there is clear evidence that they are dangerous
- Make sure that pathways are clear of trip and slip hazards. This relates mainly to clumps of foliage that may grow through gravel paths, an accumulation of wet leaves and/or the removal of moss/algae on stone paths
- Boundary walls, like all fabric, deteriorate over time. Any maintenance programme for the churchyard should take this into account and regular inspections should take place
- Identify rabbit warrens, fox holes and badger sets, as these animals often tunnel into the churchyard and create holes that can be dangerous
- If in doubt, consult your Archdeacon/DAC Secretary/church insurer.
Being aware of health and safety need not be a chore and is usually common sense.
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