Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for burial and cremation authorities

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 - see all updates

This guidance is for burial and cremation authorities to help manage their services and also their funeral services during the current pandemic.

14 page PDF

515.6 kB

14 page PDF

515.6 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for burial and cremation authorities
Infection control

14 page PDF

515.6 kB

Infection control

Non-healthcare settings

As a non-healthcare setting, both burial and cremation authorities should, as a minimum, ensure that relevant Health Protection Scotland (HPS) guidance is reviewed and adhered to. This is COVID-19 - guidance for non-healthcare settings

As HPS guidance makes clear, recommended measures to ensure that COVID-19 infection risk is appropriately mitigated in a non-healthcare setting include:

The Scottish Government has published guidance for non-healthcare public services that is relevant for both burial and cremation authorities.  It collates steps outlined in the above HPS guidance in maintaining adherence to physical distancing advice in the workplace. 

Precautions to take

The following does not provide an exhaustive checklist on precautions to take. Further public health measures, as appropriate or required by individual circumstances, will be required to be implemented.

Management of funeral services

  • signpost stakeholders and funeral service attendees to wider guidance on funeral services
  • maximum in-person attendance at funeral services has been set by the Scottish Government in the Protection Levels. These limits do not include the funeral director, venue staff or celebrant but do include children of all ages and any person hired by the family. A bagpiper is not included in the maximum number attending if they are only there for that purpose and remain outdoors.  If the piper joins the funeral party inside the venue they must be included in the maximum number of attendees
  • if necessary, and depending on the capacity of the premises, restrict the number of attendees further to ensure that physical distancing and wider public health requirements are adhered to, taking into account your own risk assessments, circumstances and facilities
  • reiterate that all attendees (including staff and celebrant(s)) must adhere to physical distancing requirements, including the need to maintain 2 metres distance between different households throughout a service (except where they are from the same household, extended household or are a carer and the person who is assisted by the carer)
  • regular cleaning of enclosed public spaces should be carried out of areas, and especially surfaces, attendees may have been near or touched. Ideally, surfaces should be cleaned between each contact and/or attendees encouraged to wash hands before and after touching surfaces
  • seek to provide and signpost to hand washing or hand sanitisation facilities for members of the public who are attending a funeral service
  • where possible, manage the flow of groups in and out of a venue or space to minimise overlap between different groups and to facilitate cleaning processes
  • maximise ventilation rates on premises by opening windows and doors where appropriate and if possible (and if doing so will not encourage others above the maximum number of attendees to gather at the doors)
  • advise attendees that face coverings must be worn at all indoor funeral services. More information, including exemptions, can be found in the guidance for funeral services
  • communal singing should be avoided e.g. the singing of hymns. This is due to the potential for increased risk generated from aerosol particles and droplets as a result of that action. Recordings of music should be used instead. See relevant sections of Scottish Government places of worship guidance and marriage and civil partnership guidance for further information
  • signpost those organising a funeral to public information available on the Scottish Government website about coronavirus (COVID-19), which provides important advice applicable for all during this pandemic

Other precautions

The most effective method of continuing to mitigate infection risk in a non-healthcare setting is through wearing a face covering, regular cleaning, regular hand hygiene and by following advice on physical distancing. 

All staff and visitors should regularly perform hand hygiene, using soap and water or hand sanitiser, to minimise any potential spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) during the course of the working day. 

The use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff should also be considered.  This may include the use of disposable gloves or fluid resistant face mask/visor when working in public spaces or handling coffins (and therefore in close proximity to others).

If a symptomatic individual has been on the premises, then cleaning and disinfecting should be carried out as per the HPS guidance for non-healthcare settings. If there is any visible contamination of body fluids (e.g. from funeral service attendees), then the need for additional PPE should be considered within the local risk assessment. Ensure hand hygiene is performed after the cleaning is complete.

Receipt of a coffin

Both burial and cremation authorities should ensure that advice regarding physical distancing is adhered to on receipt of a coffin. This will involve staff maintaining 2 metres distance from a funeral director and/or visitors, wherever possible.

As a further precaution, authorities should consider wiping down handles or areas where staff may be likely to come into direct contact with the surface (e.g. with a disinfectant/detergent treated cloth) prior to handling. The use of disposable gloves and/or use of surgical face masks/visors should also be considered during manual handling actions. 

Carrying out this action is not to manage any infection risk from the deceased within a sealed coffin, but to mitigate any infection risk from those previously handling the coffin. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is currently known to remain present on surfaces for up to 72 hours. 

The use of PPE does not act as a substitute for regular hand washing and physical distancing. All staff should regularly perform hand hygiene using soap and water or hand sanitiser and maintain the 2 metres physical distancing requirement. 

Safer workplaces

Carrying out a robust risk assessment with full workforce involvement will identify the practical measures that can be put in place to minimise the spread of the virus at a workplace level.

Risk assessments and safe systems of work, taking account of physical distancing, hand washing, surface cleaning and fair work principles, will allow safe operation while protecting employee health and well-being. See the Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces, Health Protection Scotland’s COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings and the Health and Safety Executive website for further information.

[1] Information graphs on the correct use of soap and water and hand sanitiser are available. NHS 24 have also published a video advising how hands are washed correctly

[2] Public Health England, Guidance for care of the deceased with suspected or confirmed coronavirus, subheading ‘risk of transmission of COVID-19 from an infected body’ and joint Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Public Health Wales (PHW), Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, (PHANI), Health Protection Scotland (HPS) and PHE guidance Transmission characteristics and principles of infection prevention and control, section 3

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 -