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Frequently asked questions

Please find below a range of frequently asked questions for funeral firms about operating during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. If you have a question that is not answered here, please email info@nafd.org.uk.

 

England: The NAFD has sought guidance, having been made aware of funeral home staff having to self-isolate through test and trace, as a result of contact which occurred during work-related activities.

As critical workers, if the contact occurred while an employee is carrying out their duties AND there are mitigations which make isolation unnecessary (e.g. the wearing of PPE) AND their absence would threaten service delivery within the business, we understand that the case can be referred for a 'Tier 1 assessment' with the local health protection team.

We have asked The Cabinet Office for this to be specifically documented in relation to funeral workers. However, until this happens, if you have a case which meets all of the above criteria, you should make reference to the following guidance for health and social providers:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-management-of-exposed-healthcare-workers-and-patients-in-hospital-settings/covid-19-management-of-exposed-healthcare-workers-and-patients-in-hospital-settings

Specifically:

"If a health or social care worker is considered to be a contact, and the recommendation for them to self-isolate would have implications for the provision of the service, their employer will need to escalate this for a risk- assessment to a Tier 1 contact tracer at the local Health Protection Team (HPT). Advice about whether a risk-assessment is needed may also be sought from the HPT.

"The risk-assessment should take account of any PPE use (including its type and situational appropriateness) and other mitigating factors that may reduce the risk of infection transmission to such an extent that the individual identified as a contact does not need to self-isolate."

Please note, this is ONLY to be used if the member of staff concerned is traced as a result of contact which occurred when they were carrying out their duties AND there are mitigations which make isolation unnecessary (e.g. the wearing of PPE) AND their absence threatens the ability of the business to remain operational.

This should NEVER be used for personal contact with infected persons outside the workplace or outside of the course of normal working duties.

Please click here to download the latest guidance (16 October) from The Cabinet Office advising of the restrictions in England, Wales and Scotland.

Northern Ireland will be added following the completion of their circuit break period. During this period (19 October-1 November), a 25-person limit has been placed on funerals.

Face coverings are required when clients visit a funeral home in England, Wales and Scotland and are mandatory in Northern Ireland unless the business is able to reduce the risk of transmission through an appointment system.

Face coverings are required during all indoor funeral services (including places of worship, burial ground chapels and crematoria) in England and Scotland. In Northern Ireland and Wales face coverings are recommended but not mandatory.

In line with Public Health England guidance, published on 31 March 2020, families are urged not to seek to delay the funeral.

It is not clear when it will be possible to lift the restrictions and some aspects of them may remain in force for many months. The law allows for the restrictions to last for up to two years. It is also possible that restrictions may be tightened further and funerals may take place with no mourners permitted to attend.

For all of these reasons, and to ensure organisations managing funerals are able to cope with the increased number of deaths, families are advised to work with funeral directors to arrange a small, immediate family funeral service now and a larger memorial service or celebration of life at a later date.

The NAFD does not recommend that members undertake, or assist in, the activity of death verification at this time (either on their own or through a video call to a GP) and the Government has made it clear that funeral directors should not feel under pressure to do so. NAFD members are also advised that verifying death is not supported as a recognised activity under the NAFD membership Professional Indemnity cover.

If you decide to undertake this activity, you should check whether it is acceptable to your Employers and Public Liability insurers and seek relevant Professional Indemnity insurance that will protect you for this activity.  Please be aware it is unlikely to be construed as a normal activity of your business as a funeral director and may not therefore be covered by your insurance arrangements.

Funeral firms should follow the specific guidance for their part of the UK:

  • England and Wales: Click here to visit the PHE guidance for care of the deceased ( last updated 12 May 2020).
  • Scotland: Click here for links to guidance issued by the Scottish Government on 13 May.
  • Northern Ireland: updated interim guidance was issued by Department of Health - Northern Ireland, on 2 July, click here to download a copy.

The most recent Public Health England guidance indicates that, while body bags are not necessary when collecting someone known or suspected to have died from COVID-19 for infection control purposes, their use could be of practical importance for funeral directors when collecting the body of a deceased person from the place where they have died in the community.

Many funeral firms have now reintroduced the use of limousines, following guidance to keep passengers and employees safe and adapting vehicles with the use of protective screens.

Government guidance says:

Mourners should also follow the advice on social distancing when travelling to and from the funeral. Wherever possible, mourners should travel to the venue in a car by themselves or with people from their household or support bubble (if applicable). If this is not possible and funeral transport is required:

  • the number of people in each car should be kept as low as possible
  • there should be good ventilation (keep the windows open)
  • if possible, maintain social distance between passengers, maximising the distance through appropriate seating positions
  • mourners who are not from the same household or support bubble should face away from each other
  • vehicles should be cleaned regularly using gloves and standard cleaning products with particular emphasis on handles and other surfaces that passengers may touch
  • the driver and passengers should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after the journey or use hand sanitiser. They should cover their mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing or with the crook of their elbow if no tissues are available
  • they should avoid touching their faces and dispose of used tissues in a bin immediately

If mourners are using shared transport with others that they do not normally meet and where social distancing is not possible, they should wear a face covering.

If the hospital does not remove the pacemaker prior to the funeral director taking the deceased person into their care, Public Health England guidance confirms that embalmers may undertake this procedure using the appropriate PPE. The British Institute of Embalmers has issued specific guidance on this process to its members and the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that funeral directors will be able to access PPE supplies through their local resilience forum. You can find your local forum by clicking here. However, we are aware that some funeral directors’ own policy is not to embalm or remove pacemakers from confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.

On 17 April, the government published new guidance for councils which outlines contingency measures as set out in Schedule 28 of the Coronavirus Act.

These powers allow councils to issue direction if required on whether to bury or cremate someone (wishes of deceased to be taken into account as far as possible), to direct crematoria to operate longer hours and to direct funeral directors to have shorter services.

The government has always been clear that these will only be triggered in exceptional circumstances if there is a public health risk, and do not anticipate that giving councils such powers will be necessary. They can only be triggered if the Secretary of State deems that such action is necessary.

While every indication suggests these are powers that will never be used, it is important to know that they are there and what the implications might be.

The Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office will only designate a local authority where they consider that as a result of Coronavirus there is, or is likely to be, insufficient capacity in that authority’s area to transport, store or dispose of deceased bodies or human remains.

Any decision to switch on the new local authority powers will be based on a number of factors, including whether funeral directors comply with Local Resilience Forum/local authority requests to take appropriate action within their area that assists capacity. The Act already gives LRFs this power. At the moment they’re asking nicely and funeral directors are advised to comply as best they can.

It is therefore important that funeral directors seek to cooperate with LRFs and do all they can to provide information when asked.

You should only make a report under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) when:

  • an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Coronavirus.

FInd out more from the Health and Safety Executive here.

The Deceased Management Advisory Group (DMAG), which the NAFD is part of, has received a number of reports concerning body bags, PVC and placing of items in coffins.

DMAG strongly urges funeral directors to follow government advice to use a single body bag, made from materials which do not include PVC, and ensure plastic or other items are not placed in the body bag or coffin.

Read the full guidance here.

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