Information about

Safety in and around graves

Information for employers, self employed persons and persons with management or control of a workplace about their duties to control risks associated with working in and around graves

Print or download a PDF version of this document Date Published: May 2016 Keycode: WSV1710/01/05.16 Division Author:

Background

This guidance has been developed to ensure employers, self-employed persons and persons working in and around graves:

  • are aware of their duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 (OHS Regulations) and
  • understand their obligations to identify, assess and control risks associated with working in and around graves, in particular, in relation to:
    • preventing grave collapse
    • falls from height, and
    • loads falling while being lifted or suspended.

Duties under the OHS Act and Regulations

The OHS Act requires employers, so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide and maintain for its employees, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (OHS Act s21). This includes, so far as is reasonably practicable -

  • providing or maintaining safe plant (eg machinery and equipment) or safe systems of work
  • ensuring the safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances
  • maintaining the workplace, under the employers management and control in a safe condition (eg ensuring graves are covered or secured when not in use) and without risks to health
  • providing such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees to enable them to perform their work safely and without risks to health.

Employers must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than their employees (eg the public) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer (OHS Act s23). This includes taking measures to prevent people from falling into an excavated grave.

A person who (whether as an owner or otherwise) has, to any extent, the management or control of a workplace must ensure that the workplace and the means of entering or leaving it are safe and without risks to health (OHS Act s26).

A self-employed person must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the work they are undertaking (OHS Act s24).

There are also specific duties in the OHS Regulations that must be complied with. The relevant provisions include:

  • prevention of falls (Part 3.3)
  • plant (Part 3.5)
  • confined spaces (Part 3.4), and
  • manual handling (Part 3.1). 

Recommended risk control measures

A duty imposed on a person by the OHS Act or OHS Regulations to ensure health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, requires the person to:

  • eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable, and
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks to health and safety, to reduce those risks, so far as is reasonably practicable.

When assessing risks and implementing risk control measures in relation to excavating a grave, the following matters should be considered:

  • the type and condition of the soil such as the moisture content and water table (ie the level below which the ground is saturated with water)
  • location and proximity of any previously disturbed ground (eg neighbouring graves)
  • underground services that are at or near the location of the excavation (eg gas pipes)
  • ground stability and any anticipated ground vibration (eg from excavators)
  • the expected ground pressures (including location of spoil pile, equipment to be used and anticipated number of people near the grave)
  • location and proximity of adjacent structures such as monuments
  • the size of the grave (depth / width / length)
  • any space constraints.

Preventing grave collapse

Graves are excavated with near vertical walls to depths of up to 2.7 metres. Grave walls may collapse without warning, placing people in or around the grave at risk of injury or death.

Positive ground support methods such as shoring or shields should be used to prevent ground collapse. Risk control measures such as benching or battering should not be used due to restricted space around graves.

Further information about trenching, including how to prevent ground collapse can be found in the WorkSafe Code of Practice - Safety precautions in trenching operations.

Fall protection

Employers must ensure the risk of a fall into a grave is controlled.

The OHS Regulations sets out how an employer must control the risk of a fall, so far as is reasonably practicable, by providing a hierarchy of controls to determine what fall protection measures must be used if there is a risk of a fall of over two metres (r. 3.3.4). The falls hierarchy ranks risks control measures from the highest effective level of protection to the lowest.

Regulation 3.3.4 does not apply to falls of less than two metres (eg a single occupancy grave of 1.7m) and it is not mandatory to follow the falls hierarchy of control. However, employers still have a general duty to maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. The risk control measures listed in the falls hierarchy of control may be used as a guide.

Suggested controls

Guardrail systems, which are now available to be used around graves, still facilitate the traditional burial process whilst reducing the risk of persons falling into the grave.

The risk of employees and other persons falling into an unattended excavated grave must be controlled. Systems such as lockable load bearing covers that secure the grave whilst they are unattended are available.

If people are required to enter the grave, safe means to enter and exit must be provided.

Risk control measures must be in place until the grave is backfilled (eg using covers or ensuring that the grave is not left unattended).

Falling objects

Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that employees who dig graves wear appropriate personal protective equipment (eg safety helmets) to protect them from serious injury or even death as a result of objects which may fall into the grave while they are working within it.

The spoil pile should never be less than 500 mm from the edge of the excavation. If a spoil pile is very close to an excavation, material on the spoil pile may roll into the excavation, striking employees.

Handling of monuments, headstones and ledgers

The risks associated with handling, lifting or suspending loads, such as monuments, headstones, ledgers and other associated burial equipment must be controlled at all times.

Lifting or slinging practices

When slinging a load, it is good practice to:

  • use appropriate slings (eg correct type and lifting capacity for the application)
  • use earthmoving or other lifting equipment appropriately rated for the load to be lifted
  • only attach loads to the designated lifting points on earthmoving or lifting equipment
  • connect earthmoving or lifting equipment to both the purpose designed lifting point on the mobile plant and the load in a manner that requires a deliberate action to release the connection (eg a self-locking hook or hook with latch)

       note: connections that rely on gravity alone (eg open hooks) should not be used as they can dislodge due to the movement of the lifting equipment or load

  • use tag lines when necessary, to help maintain control of the suspended load.

Employees are required to hold a high-risk work licence for dogging or rigging if they are required to:

  • exercise judgment on the load's mass and centre of gravity, or on the selection of slings or sling attachment points when slinging the load
  • direct the operator in the movement of the load, including if the load is partly or fully out of the view of the operator.

An employer must not allow an employee to do high risk work unless the employee holds an appropriate high risk work licence in relation to that work unless an exception, as set out in Regulation 3.6.3, applies.

For more information see WorkSafe's guidance, More information about - Trench shields and road plates

Earthmoving equipment used as cranes

Appropriately designed earthmoving equipment can be used to lift loads. If using earthmoving equipment with a rated capacity greater than one tonne to lift loads, ensure the equipment is fitted with hydraulic burst protection valves on critical hydraulic cylinders.

Earthmoving equipment with a lesser capacity should also be fitted with hydraulic burst protection. The rated (lifting) capacity of the equipment should be permanently displayed in a prominent position near the lifting point, and the load chart should be mounted inside the cabin. Loads should only be suspended from the manufacturer's designated lift points on the boom or the quickhitch.

For more information see WorkSafe's Guidance Note - Earthmoving equipment used as a crane

Other hazards and risks

Other hazards and risks that may exist but which have not covered in this guidance include:

  • using and working near mobile plant
  • working in confined spaces
  • manual handling.

Further information on using and working near mobile plant can be found in the Code of Practice - Plant. Further information about working in confined spaces can be found in the Confined Spaces Compliance Code. Further information on controlling risks associated with hazardous manual handling can be found in the Code of Practice - Manual handling.

Regular inspections

Risk control measures that are put in place to protect the health and safety of employees must be monitored and reviewed. This requires checking them and ensuring that processes are put in place to identify and quickly fix problems.

Equipment should be visually inspected for signs of wear or damage prior to use on site. Visual inspections should be undertaken by people trained and suitably experienced in carrying out such inspections. Any equipment that does not meet visual inspection requirements should be withdrawn from service until it is safe for use.

A suitably qualified person should assess equipment for damage or unacceptable wear to ensure the equipment is safe for continued use. As a minimum, full inspections should be conducted annually, and results of inspections, and maintenance conducted, should be recorded.

Information, instruction, training and/or supervision

Employers have a duty to ensure that employees are provided with such information, instruction, training and/or supervision as is necessary to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

This may include information or training on:

  • safe systems of work developed to perform high risk tasks
  • appropriate rigging/dogging techniques
  • use and inspection of lifting equipment
  • installation and inspection of shoring, shields and other ground support equipment
  • working safely in graves
  • preventing  falls
  • working around powered mobile plant
  • traffic management.

It is recommended that any information, instruction or training provided is recorded.

Further Information

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007
Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003

Australian Standards

AS 4744.1: Steel shoring and trench lining equipment
AS 3776: Lifting components for grade T chain slings

WorkSafe publications

A handbook for workplaces - Controlling OHS hazards and risk.
Code of Practice - Safety precautions in trenching operations
Code of Practice for - Plant
More information about - Trench shields and road plates
Guidance Note - Earthmoving equipment used as a crane
Code of Practice - Manual handling
Compliance Code - confined spaces
Your health and safety guide to confined spaces