When A Cemetery Headstone Becomes A Safety Risk
It might seem like issues of health and safety won't be applicable at a cemetery, where the residents no longer have a need for these precautions. But to be logical, cemeteries are really for the living — those who visit their absent loved ones' final resting places. It can be upsetting to be contacted by the cemetery where a loved one was laid to rest, being told that your loved one's headstone has become a safety issue.
A Safety Risk
Even a vertical headstone isn't especially high, and it's not as though an unsteady grave marker has the ability to cause much damage if it topples over. But it is a safety risk, with the potential to injure a cemetery visitor who might be in the immediate vicinity. Many cemeteries carry out periodic safety inspections of their grounds, where an unstable headstone may be identified. Alternatively, a member of the public may have reported a headstone that looks as though it's in danger of toppling over.
Maintaining a Grave
While the maintenance of the grounds is the responsibility of cemetery management, maintenance of a specific grave (and its headstone) falls to the next of kin of the grave's resident, or whoever holds the deed to the cemetery plot. However, in the interests of health and safety, cemetery management may take immediate, precautionary measures. This can involve the removal of the headstone, or simply laying it flat on the ground at the head of the grave. You will then be contacted about the issue.
Repairing Any Damage
Just what happens next depends on the nature of the problem. Depending on when your loved one was laid to rest, their headstone may simply have deteriorated over the years. Alternatively, the headstone's foundation might have become damaged, causing the headstone to tilt. Please remember that correcting the issue is your responsibility, although you may wish to contact the headstone mason who manufactured it, in case the headstone is still under warranty. Ideally, any structural issue is minor and can be quickly corrected. If maintenance is needed to restore the headstone, please ensure that the mason liaises with the cemetery to find out the days and times when this work is permitted.
Replacing the Headstone
If the headstone cannot be restored, it will need to be replaced, which is often an unexpected (and unwelcome) expense. You may wish to install a temporary flat marker until such time as you purchase a new headstone. If the original headstone deteriorated due to weathering, it might be wise to select an alternative material to prevent the issue from occurring again (even if it will take many years to do so).
Headstones should act as a permanent memorial for a departed loved one, but sometimes these memorials might not be as permanent as originally intended.