Safety in and around graves

Learn your health and safety duties and how to control risks in and around graves.  


Risks around graves

  • preventing grave collapse
  • falls from height
  • employees, contractors and other persons falling into excavated graves risking injury or death, and
  • loads falling while being lifted or suspended


Employers, so far is as reasonably practicable, must provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without health risks to themselves and others. These duties exist under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).

Duties include, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  1. providing and maintaining safe plant (eg machinery and equipment) and safe systems of work
  2. ensuring safe use, handling, storage and transport of plant and substances
  3. maintaining the workplace in a safe condition (eg ensuring graves are covered or secured when not in use), and
  4. providing necessary information, instruction, training and/or supervision so employees and contractors can work safely

Employers must take measures to prevent members of the public from falling into an excavated grave (OHS Act s23).

Owners or people with management or control of a workplace must make sure the workplace and the means of entering and leaving is safe and without risks to health (OHS Act s26).

A self-employed person must ensure people are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from their work (OHS Act s24).

Specific duties exist in the OHS Regulations. The relevant provisions include:

  1. prevention of falls (Part 3.3)
  2. plant (Part 3.5)
  3. confined spaces (Part 3.4)
  4. hazardous manual handling (Part 3.1)

Risks control measures

Eliminate risks to health and safety as far as is reasonably practicable. If elimination is not reasonably practicable, reduce the risk as far as is reasonably practicable. Consider the following when selecting risk control measures:

Excavating a grave

  1. 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).
  2. The 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).
  3. The expected ground pressures (including location of spoil pile, equipment to be used and anticipated number of people near the grave).
  4. Location and proximity of adjacent structures such as monuments the size of the grave (depth / width / length).
  5. Any space constraints.

Preventing grave collapse

  1. 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.
  2. Positive ground support methods such as shoring or shields should be used to prevent ground collapse.
  3. Risk control measures such as benching or battering should not be used due to restricted space around graves.
  4. Further information about trenching, including how to prevent ground collapse:

Fall protection

  1. Fall protection measures must be used if there is a risk of a fall of over two metres. The OHS Regulations rank risk control measures from the highest effective level of protection to the lowest. The highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable must be selected and used.
  2. For risks associated with falls of two metres or less (eg a single occupancy grave of 1.7m) 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 regulations should be used as a guide.
  3. Guardrail systems can be used around graves that still facilitate the traditional burial process whilst reducing the risk of persons falling into the grave.
  4. Systems such as lockable load bearing covers that secure the grave whilst they are unattended are also available.
  5. If people are required to enter the grave, safe means to enter and exit must be provided.
  6. Risk control measures must remain in place until the grave is backfilled (eg using covers or ensuring that the grave is not left unattended).

Falling objects

  1. Employees and contractors who dig graves should 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.
  2. 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 and/or contractors.

Handling of monuments, headstones and ledgers

  1. Risks associated with handling, lifting or suspending loads, such as monuments, headstones, ledgers and other associated burial equipment risks must be controlled at all times.
  2. When slinging a load, employees and contractors must:
    • 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

    Additionally, it is good practice to:

    • 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)
    • 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
  3. Employees and contractors 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; and/or
    • direct the operator in the movement of the load, including if the load is partly or fully out of the view of the operator.
  4. 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 or exemption applies under regulation 130 of the OHS Regulations.

Earthmoving equipment used as cranes

  1. 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, the equipment should be fitted with hydraulic burst protection valves on critical hydraulic cylinders.
  2. 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.
  3. Loads should only be suspended from the manufacturer’s designated lift points on the boom or the quickhitch.

Regular inspections

  1. Risk control measures put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and contractors must be monitored and reviewed. This includes checking the control measures and ensuring processes are put in place to identify and quickly fix problems.
  2. 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. The results of inspections and any maintenance conducted should be recorded.
  3. Equipment should be visually inspected for signs of wear or damage prior to every use on site. Visual inspections should be undertaken by people trained and suitably experienced in carrying out such inspections.
  4. Any equipment that does not meet visual inspection requirements should be withdrawn from service until it is safe for use.

Information, instruction, training and/or supervision

Employers must ensure employees are given the information, instruction, training and/or supervision necessary for them to perform their work safely and without health risks.

This includes information and 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, and
  • management

Employers should keep records of any information, instruction or training they provide to their employees and contractors.

Related information

Victorian acts and regulations

Australian Standards

  • AS 3776: Lifting components for grade T chain slings