The case for refrigeration

words: Joseph Murren

Earlier in 2016, a decision was taken by the Scottish Executive that from early 2018 all Scottish members must have provision for refrigeration within their own premises to the capacity of one space per 50 funerals per annum.

To some, this may seem an unjustified interference in their business, and to others an unnecessary facility using hard-earned capital and an increase in operating costs. I therefore wish to make the case for including refrigeration in today’s modern funeral business.

I will first take you back to the NAFD Diploma in Funeral Directing. It clearly states the five functions of the funeral director. There may of course be more, but these have been recognised as the main functions and I know of no one ever taking issue with them:

• Master of ceremonies
• Contractor
• Technical advisor
• Agent
• Custodian of the deceased person.

And it is the last which this article is concerned with.

If we are to be entrusted with the care of a loved one, then it is incumbent upon us to ensure that they are treated first, in a dignified and respectful manner, and second, maintained in such a state that should a mourner wish to see their loved one, they should be able to do so right up until we are discharged of what some would describe as a ‘sacred duty’.

I know there will be times, due to the mode of death, or a considerable lapse of time before coming into your care, when viewing will not be possible. However, these will be the exceptions and do not remove our duty to care for the deceased in the best possible way.

At a recent regional meeting one member asked why he needs refrigeration as he is an embalmer and all of his deceased are embalmed.

This may be so; however, SAIF cannot make rules and establish criteria for individuals and must consider the membership as a whole. If all of the deceased are embalmed to a standard that ensures full preservation until the time of the funeral, then the embalmer has to be congratulated. However, in my experience not all are embalmed to such a standard and many are not embalmed at all.

I have been fortunate in my career to work at a senior level for two of the largest funeral companies in the UK and have on many occasions observed embalmers, both in-house and trade, at work. As with many professions and trades, there are very good operators, there are adequate operators and there are some not-so-good operators.

Speaking as a qualified embalmer, the standards of embalming I have witnessed, in both corporate and independent companies, vary widely and as any embalmer will know there are many factors that may influence the end results, not least of all the time spent on the work. In many cases, the main objective is to enhance the presentation, with little thought being given to preservation.

For this reason, it is not possible for SAIF Scotland to accept embalming as a method to ensure the deceased remains in an acceptable condition until our responsibility to care for that person is discharged. The only sure method currently at our disposal is for the deceased to be kept in a temperature controlled area, be it a refrigerator or cold room.

Recently, we have seen an advert from the Scottish Government for the appointment of an Inspector of Funerals.

This is no longer a desire for those of us who wish to be finally regarded as professionals and to stop just anyone opening up a funeral firm with no knowledge or experience; it is a reality. In two-plus years, legislation will be a requirement for funeral directors in Scotland, and for those of you south of the border, Westminster is taking notice.

Your Executive does not know the full extent of what will be required. However, it does have representation on the Government committees and it is the firm belief of your Executive that refrigeration will be a requirement.

You also must recognise the views and perceptions of the public (I was once told that perception to the perceiver is reality). I firmly believe that if you were to ask a section of the public if funeral directors should have refrigeration, then the vast majority would answer in the affirmative. Should we not meet the aspirations and needs of our families?

Recently changes in registration and police procedures have meant the deceased is in our care for longer periods, sometimes for up to two weeks or longer, before the funeral takes place. Delays in issuing the certificate for cause of death and possible delays in registering the death mean we are not able to carry out any last offices or embalming. The only sure way to ensure the deceased is cared for in a proper state is refrigeration.

Some of you may think the cost is prohibitive – not so. The cost of refrigeration has come down considerably and it is now possible to obtain a three-tier fridge at a reasonable price, and with proper management the operating cost need not be excessive.

I have visited many small firms doing fewer than 50 funerals a year who have adequate refrigeration within their premises. If you have areas of concern then we are here to help.

It is not our intention to cause members problems – talk to us; we have solutions. Phone either me or a member of the Executive; or better still, come to a meeting, let the Executive hear your concerns, let them hear what you think and let them help.

The majority of SAIF Scotland members have premises and facilities to be proud of. However, I do find it sad when I visit some premises that would not be out of place in a Dickensian production. Your executive believes that all members should have a minimum facility which should include a private preparation (mortuary) area and refrigeration.

If we claim to be funeral directors and if we truly claim to be professionals, should we not ensure we provide adequate and modern facilities to perform one of our core duties, the care of the deceased?

I apologise for using an overused euphemism, but ask yourself; is your business fit for purpose in the 21st century? Is your business ready for a Government Inspector?

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