The COVID-19 risk

Simon Bloxham

Best practice advice to protect yourself and your colleagues while providing funeral services to your clients

There are many risks in health and safety but I have never known a risk – such as the COVID-19 virus – that is able to affect so many people, young and old, so quickly and easily as this risk does. There are numerous sources of information available to us all and this information appears to change by the hour, so for my article today, I have tried to focus on the routine and regular steps you can take to protect yourself, your workforce and the people you come in contact with.

COVID-19 symptoms

Current symptoms of the virus may include:

  1. a cough
  2. a high temperature
  3. shortness of breath

These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common at this time of year, such as cold and flu.

If possible avoid catching and spreading the germs. There are steps that we can all take to help stop viruses spreading.


Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.

  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.


  • Touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

Handling the deceased

The principles of Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) continue to apply. This is due to the ongoing risk of infectious transmission via contact although the risk is usually lower than for living patients. Where the deceased was known or suspected to have been infected with COVID-19, there is now no requirement for a body bag, and viewing, hygienic preparations, post-mortem and embalming are all permitted.

Control measures to implement

Standard infection control precautions (SICPs) are the basic infection prevention and control measures necessary to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious agents.

You will already have a number of control measures in place, so this virus shouldn’t really change much of what you are doing. You have to remember though that employers are under a legal obligation – under control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) – to adequately control the risk of exposure to hazardous substances where exposure cannot be prevented.

The provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protective equipment (RPE), will protect staff. Employees have an obligation to make full and proper use of any control measures, including PPE, provided by their employer.

When handling potentially infected equipment in the course of their work, staff must adhere to the following infection control precautions:

  • Wash hands after all procedures, especially after removing gloves, before eating and at the end of the day
  • Wash skin contaminated with blood or body fluids
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment as required by the task being undertaken
  • Cover all cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings before handling potentially infected equipment
  • Correctly segregate, seal and store all clinical waste ready for collection. This includes all disposable protective equipment or protective equipment that has become contaminated.

Use of personal protective equipment

Where you are using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you should ensure that it is:

  • compliant with the relevant BS/EN standards
  • located close to the point of use
  • stored to prevent contamination in a clean/dry area until required for use (expiry dates must be adhered to)
  • used as ‘single-use’ equipment only
  • changed immediately after completion of a procedure or task
  • disposed of after use

Some other matters to remember or consider

Disposable apron

Disposable plastic aprons must be worn to protect staff uniform or clothes from contamination when dealing with the deceased and during environmental and equipment decontamination.

Eye protection

Regular corrective spectacles are not considered adequate eye protection.

Contaminated clothing

All linen coming into contact with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases should be managed as ‘infectious’ linen. Linen must be handled, transported and processed in a manner that prevents exposure to the skin and mucous membranes of staff, contamination of their clothing and the environment. Disposable gloves and an apron should be worn when handling infectious linen.

Staff uniforms/clothes

Uniforms and clothing that might have been infected should be laundered:

  • separately from other household linen
  • in a load not more than half the machine capacity
  • at the maximum temperature the fabric can tolerate

Dispose of all waste as clinical waste.

Waste from a possible or a confirmed case must be disposed of as Category B waste. Disposal of all waste related to possible or confirmed cases should be classified as infectious clinical waste suitable for alternative treatment, unless the waste has other properties that would require it to be incinerated.

Funeral services

The question concerning the number of mourners attending funerals is high on the agenda of all service providers.

Further advice by Government has now been given and places of worship are allowed to continue with funerals but must only be attended by the immediate family. The immediate family is recognised as the spouse/partner, parents/carers, brothers/sisters, children (and partners).

Limiting attendees must be done sensitively and taking into account individual circumstances.

Help is at hand! As a member of SAIF:

You can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business simply by calling 08456 344164.

You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your health and safety needs

We can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs. So what have you got to lose?

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