NEA imposes stricter rules for funeral parlours so no body mix-up happens again

Following a blunder by a funeral parlour early this month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced that stricter rules will be imposed on licensed parlour operators. Some of the rules include the usage of body identification tags which has the name and sex of the deceased.

Additionally, licensed operators have to also make sure that embalming rooms and areas used to temporarily keep the bodies are always locked, and limited access given to only authorised staff members, TODAY reported.

On 3 January (Friday), the license of a funeral parlour Century Products was suspended and the parlour set to be charged in court after a mix-up resulted in the wrong body being cremated.

It was earlier reported by the Straits Times that 82-year-old Kee Kin Tiong was wrongly cremated on 30 December last year ahead of his funeral rites.

This happened after an employee of funeral director Harmony Funeral Care made an error by thinking that Kee’s body was the deceased family member of another client when collecting it from the embalming room of Century Products.

NEA has issued a notice to suspend the license of Century Products, where they revealed the premises had not kept proper records of the received or removed remains.

On the other hand, Harmony Funeral Care has been barred from using government after-death facilities at Mandai Crematorium and Chua Chu Crematorium and Cemetery.

Following this incident, NEA sent out the detailed guidelines in a circular on Friday (10 January) to 22 licensed parlours with embalming facilities.

In the circular, TODAY stated that NEA’s director-general of public health Chew Ming Fai said that the mix-up event shows the need to strengthen procedures when it comes to handling bodies by all parties involved.

“As a licensed funeral parlour, it is your responsibility to ensure that bodies received into the premises are properly accounted for, without mix-up, and are handled in a dignified and respectful manner,” Mr Chew said.

He added that licensees should spread the information on the guidelines to all staff members and funeral director who use their premises.

“NEA will conduct further follow-up inspections to check on compliance, starting from (this) week.”

Guidelines by NEA

According to NEA, before and after the body arrives, the funeral parlours have to ensure a few things. First, to make sure that there’s enough space in the embalming facility to accept a body for embalming or preparation before burial or cremation.

Secondly, to have identification tags with name and sex of the deceased person, the name of the funeral company that brought it in, and services needed for the body like washing and embalming. All the information written on the tag must be in English, and it has to be attached securely to the body at all times. Licensees must also have a system in place to identify each body when it arrives at the parlour until it departs.

Thirdly, the licensee or an employee of the licensed parlour must always be present when a body is taken to the premises, and keep record all the details of the body in a register, as per the Environmental Public Health (Funeral Parlours) Regulation. Some of the required details under the regulations include, name, address, age and sex of the deceased, as well as the date, place and cause of death.

If that’s not all, licensees have to be sure that the embalming room and the space allocated to temporarily hold bodies are locked at all times, and limited access be given to only authorised employees.

Additionally, no other bodies should be kept in the embalming room when a deceased person’s family comes into the room for ritual washing. If this is not possible, licensed parlours have to ensure that there’s at least a partition or screen is in place to uphold the dignity of the deceased and of other clients.

Besides that, licensees have also have proper spaces – that’s away of public view – when holding bodies before and after embalming.

Only competent embalmers must be engaged by the licensed operator. These embalmers should maintain a register of all embalmers working on the premises.

Lastly, when it comes to releasing the body, the licensed parlours must have a proper system to check that the right body is being handed over. The licensee or an employee must always be there in person when the body is taken out of the parlour, and this must be recorded in the register.

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