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Grave concerns : The British Standard

17 July 2015
David Francis discusses the memorial side of the business.

The British Standard, BS 8415, is the benchmark for fixing memorials. It covers any suitable material erected in differing types of ground, anywhere in the British Isles. It has been updated twice and it expects common sense to be used in the implementation of its directives. The standard has improved the stability of memorials in cemeteries and graveyards a great deal.

The rest of the stone industry has many Standards, CE marking and regulations covering the different uses and applications for its materials. The producers must have headaches because they need to know in advance what the stone is going to be used for. The standards for stonework are well researched and tested to give confidence in the products.

Standard BS 8415 is the cornerstone that has improved memorials and the way they are fixed.

Nevertheless… the first section, covering the use of cement to attach headstones to bases, is now outdated because the type specified now only covers white cement and not the cements currently in use. And we have a section on piers to support a foundation (not generally used in this country) but no guidance on the foundation itself.

The section on soil types was lifted from a construction standard and is for footings for buildings. BS 8415 does say that ‘loose sand and silts’ are not covered and this section was not originally included for ground anchor testing but for foundations.

Dowels can be a problem for fixing stone memorials, such as in Portland limestone. This is because the diameter of the dowels can affect the structural integrity of the material. No structured test has been carried out regarding the minimum size dowel in relationship to the size of hole and the safety of such a structure.

The depth of the dowel is far more important but the recommendations are based on original tests carried out using granite and marble memorials to check the criteria.

The standard insists that lawn memorials should be erected on undisturbed ground.

This means Cemetery Authorities must give space at the head of a grave on new plots for this type of memorial. This only applies to lawn memorials, which the original writers of the standard did not make clear.

The Annex in the Standard covering the safety checking of memorials and fixing systems is similar to the Ministry of Justice guideline document for cemetery authorities. The guidelines bring nothing new, except that a pressure test should not exceed a maximum 25kg. This has slowed the wholesale knocking over of headstones. It also strongly advises cemeteries to communicate better with the grave owners.

The BS 8415 section on ground anchors should be read together with the rest of the Standard to be properly understood. It must be realistic and take account of the soil conditions found in cemeteries. Undisturbed ground is the criteria for lawn memorials but does not cover fixing on a dug grave. If, as has been suggested, a pit were dug and filled with sand, it is going to be classed as loose sand until the passage of time allows it to properly settle.

It took a lot of time and effort to have ‘topple testing’ limited to 25kg and proper risk assessments for existing memorials approved. I know because I was involved in that. BS 8415 has had more than its quota of re-writes and is, I would suggest, unlikely to have another for sometime. However, the BSI committee responsible for the Standard is due to meet again at the end of June when, no doubt, it will discuss calls for changes to the testing of memorial fixing systems to include a dug pit filled with sand.

David Francis is a hands-on mason who ran a craft-based business in South London for many years. He moved out of London in the 1990s and since then has been concentrating on memorial masonry, being Technical Advisor and Trainer for the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) for several years, writing training manuals and City & Guild Qualifications. He has now left NAMM but would like to continue to advise and assist masons to help and improve skills in the sector.

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