Local authorities have been warned they must make every effort to avoid the "official vandalism" of large-scale laying down of gravestones during safety checks in cemeteries.
The local government ombudsmen of England and Wales have said laying flat large numbers of "lawn memorials" as a result of safety testing is almost always avoidable.
The guidance comes after a public outcry over a series of incidents dubbed "official vandalism", in which hundreds of headstones were laid flat.
The action was prompted by a number of accidents and deaths involving memorial stones in cemeteries.
In one case cited in the ombudsmen's report, Stoke-on-Trent City Council laid down 2,000 memorials in a programme starting in 2002 before it commissioned an independent review.
It was later found that only 60 of the memorials should have been classified as "very high risk" and laid flat immediately.
The council's main failure highlighted in the review was not writing to owners to tell them of their intention.
Last year Cannock Chase MP Tony Wright (Lab) accused local council officials of "mass desecration" after gravestones were judged to be unsafe.
Mr Wright's criticism of Cannock District Council came after a force equivalent to a 35kg weight was applied to gravestones to see if they were unstable. Those that failed the test were marked with notices similar to a parking ticket and wooden stakes in the ground.
Families were told they must pay for the memorials to be repaired, at a potential cost of £200, or the gravestone would be laid flat on the ground.
Local Government Ombudsman Jerry White said certain memorials posed an immediate danger with a high risk of injury but he called on councils to strike a balance between "public safety and public outrage" in their action to ensure safety in cemeteries.
Councillor Bryony Rudkin, chair of the Local Government Association safer communities board, said: "There have been six deaths in graveyards over the last decade and many more people have been injured.
"Staff should do everything in their power to let relatives know about work being carried out and show appropriate respect and sensitivity.
"But it's vital that graveyards are safe places for visitors."