In order to prevent accidents and occupational illnesses as far as possible, it is essential to carry out an occupational health and safety assessment and to have adequate funeral home infrastructures and PPE. Remember that occupational health and safety in funeral homes, as in any other industry, is a right of the workers and an obligation for the company and also for the employees themselves. For this reason, any funeral home with more than one employee is obliged to ensure the health and safety of its employees and, at the same time, to comply with the Law on Occupational Health and Safety.
Occupational health and safety in funeral homes
Correct occupational health and safety in funeral homes means avoiding or minimising the causes of accidents and occupational illnesses. To this end, it is necessary to have a Health and Safety Plan in which the possible risks of the funeral home activity are determined, the safety measures necessary to prevent accidents and a periodic evaluation and review of the same.
In addition, it is necessary to include various training plans for workers to keep them informed about the real extent of the risks derived from their job, as well as how to prevent them as far as possible through appropriate procedures and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
What are the most common occupational health and safety risks in a funeral home?
The main occupational hazards in funeral homes, cemeteries and transport of corpses (we will analyse the specific risks of thanatopraxy later on) are mainly physical:
- Falls on the same level due to tripping or slipping
- Falls to a different level
- Falling objects due to collapsing
- Falling objects while being handled
- Collisions and blows against immobile objects
- Collisions and blows against moving objects
- Electrical contacts
- Traffic accidents and accidents with vehicles- Vibrations (cemetery workers)
What measures are recommended to avoid accidents?
The measures needed to prevent accidents, illnesses and occupational hazards in funeral homes include:
- Correct handling of loads with appropriate transport and lifting media.
- Delimiting the circulation area of stretchers and caskets.
- Securing the wheels of stretchers and casket transport tables.
- Secure shelves and other particularly heavy items.
- Remove dirt and obstructions and keep the working space clean, well lit and ventilated.
- Marking the obstacles and appropriate footwear for the activity.
- Ensure compliance with preventive measures to avoid fatigue, the main cause of car accidents: rest at least seven hours before a long journey, check the condition of the vehicle, rest every two hours during the journey, keep the car’s interior ventilated, hydrate frequently and avoid, as far as possible, journeys at night or in high temperatures.
New occupational health and safety risks in funeral homes as a result of covid-19
In addition to this list of occupational health and safety risks in funeral homes, we must also include the prevention measures derived from the coronavirus pandemic, which have led to a radical change in the safety measures for funerals. They depend on the legislation of each country, but generally include capacity limits, a distance of two metres between attendees, hygiene measures such as the use of hydroalcoholic gel and the mandatory use of masks indoors.
With regard to the treatment of the dead by Covid-19, although the potential risk of transmission is considered low, in countries such as Spain, the Ministry of Health has published a technical document for the handling of corpses in which it recommends the use of appropriate PPE, as well as the use of watertight and biodegradable sanitary bags for the transfer of bodies that meet the technical sanitary characteristics of resistance to the pressure of the gases inside, watertightness and impermeability.
Psychosocial risks in funeral homes include all those situations or working conditions that have a high probability of affecting the physical and mental health of workers: stress, burnout syndrome, technostress, mental fatigue, violence and harassment at work or sexual harassment are some of the main psychosocial risks that can appear at work.
Funeral home workers are in continuous contact with death. Despite this, they must convey serenity, empathy and stability. This control of emotions can lead to an overload of workers. In addition, they sometimes have to deal with the treatment of mutilated, disfigured or decomposing human remains, which is undoubtedly a psychosocial risk that should not be overlooked.
The main occupational health an safety measures to try to prevent psychosocial risks in funeral homes and to avoid stress and emotional overload of workers include proper work planning, ensuring rest breaks and establishing appropriate shifts.
Occupational health and safety in thanatopraxy
Thanatopraxy services present occupational hazards for funeral homes arising from the handling of corpses, including exposure to biological agents caused by viruses, parasites and fungi, bacteria and/or prions. In addition, there are also chemical risks that can be caused by exposure to formaldehyde, methanol and sodium hypochlorite.
Among the main health and safety measures to avoid occupational hazards in thanatopraxy, the National Institute of Workplace Safety and Hygiene recommends the following.
- Establishment of adequate work procedures, as well as written protocols for action in the event of an accident with risk of exposure to biological agents.
- All thanatopraxy practices should be carried out in appropriate places for this purpose, equipped with a suitable table with drainage and which can be easily washed and sanitised, as well as the floor and walls of the room.
- In addition, there should be non-manually operated washbasins, toilets with showers and changing rooms for the staff, as well as the necessary elements for protection and safety at work.
- If during embalming work or any other function of these professions a cut or puncture with material possibly contaminated with blood or other biological fluids occurs, follow the post-exposure instructions, which begin with cleaning and disinfection of the wound, followed by post-exposure prophylaxis whenever necessary. In addition, there must be a medical referral service to go to in the event of an accident, which must be indicated in the written protocol.
- The waste generated in these operations must be handled and managed in accordance with current legislation on biohazardous waste.
- Do not eat, drink or smoke in work areas.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your fingers.
- Wash hands before eating or smoking.
- Provide workers with appropriate work clothing and footwear.
- Provide appropriate and adequate toilet areas for the use of workers.
- Provide places to store work clothes separately from clothing or other personal clothing.
- When leaving the work area, workers must remove work clothes and personal protective equipment (PPE) that may be contaminated by biological agents.
- Have suitable places for storing protective equipment and ensure that it is properly cleaned and maintained.
- Single-use (non-reusable) PPE should be disposed of as biohazardous waste.
- Work and protective clothing, if reusable, should be washed at high temperatures and separately from other non-contaminated clothing.
Main infectious diseases to which funeral home workers are exposed
Source: National Institute of Workplace Safety and Hygiene