Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for funeral directors

Published: 25 Nov 2020
Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 - see all updates

This guidance is for funeral directors to help manage their services during the current pandemic.

22 page PDF

664.4 kB

22 page PDF

664.4 kB

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for funeral directors
Infection control precautions

22 page PDF

664.4 kB

  1. Infection control precautions

Handling and care of deceased - precautions to take

Those in direct contact with confirmed or presumed COVID-19 deceased should be protected from exposure to infected bodily fluids, contaminated objects or other contaminated environmental surfaces. This should be achieved through: 

  • the wearing of PPE that should include disposable gloves, fluid resistant face mask, water-resistant apron and disposable eye protection (can be achieved by use of a surgical mask with integrated visor, full face shield/visor, or polycarbonate safety glasses or equivalent)
  • following all standard SICPs and TBPs as set out by the Health and Safety Executive [1]

In each case, a risk assessment should be undertaken to determine the likelihood a deceased individual may present a COVID-19 risk. Following the outcome of this risk assessment, the use of appropriate PPE should then be used and maintained in the mortuary environment until such times as the potential transmission of infection is negligible i.e. once the deceased is in a sealed coffin.  

PPE - Transmission-based precautions for coronavirus (COVID-19) 

The Royal College of Pathologists has issued the following guidance - Transmission based precautions: guidance for care of deceased during COVID-19 pandemic, which sets out the required PPE for all those who may handle bodies during this pandemic. The table below is extracted from it. 

 

Non post-mortem procedures. This includes admission of deceased, booking-in of deceased, preparation for viewing, release of deceased (if not coffined) Post-mortem procedures, including where high speed devices are used

Disposable gloves

Yes

Yes

Disposable plastic apron

Yes

Yes

Disposable gown

No

Yes

Fluid-resistant (Type IIR) surgical mask (FRSM)

Yes

No

Filtering face piece (class 3) (FFP3) respirator

No

Yes

Disposable eye protection

Yes*

Yes

*This may be single or reusable face/eye protection/full face visor or goggles.

Funeral directors and their staff should remove any PPE and contaminated clothing when they leave a work area where it is required e.g. the mortuary space. This information is directly based upon and adapted from joint UK guidance issued by the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health Wales, Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, Health Protection Scotland and Public Health England.

Other mitigating action

It is possible that the act of moving or handling a body might be sufficient to expel a very small amount of air and viral droplets from the lungs and, thereby, present a minor risk of transmission. Management of this hazard will substantially reduce the risk of potential infection from the body.  Placing a covering on the body, including the face (such as a cloth), to help prevent the release of aerosols can help reduce risk.

Collecting a body where COVID-19 infection is presumed 

Hospital setting

When notified of a death in a hospital setting, funeral directors should seek to determine if the deceased may be infected with a potential hazard, or was present in settings where COVID-19 infections were being treated. Where there is no confirmation that the deceased may be an infection risk, funeral directors should undertake their own risk assessments to determine if appropriate PPE, as set out above, needs to be worn to collect the deceased from the hospital mortuary. 

Community setting

Funeral directors who manage the deceased in the community should have access to PPE as set out above for non-post-mortem procedures. This will be required for collection of the body from a private residence or care home setting where COVID-19 infection may be present. This is particularly important if funeral directors have reason to presume that the deceased may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Where there is no confirmation that the deceased may be an infection risk in a household or similar setting, funeral directors should undertake their own risk assessment to determine if appropriate PPE, as set out above, needs to be worn. This will include if healthcare staff, first responders (such as the police) and families are willing to provide information about the circumstances before death. This could include establishing if:

  • the deceased was displaying any COVID-19 symptoms
  • a COVID-19 test was carried out
  • other members of a household are showing symptoms of COVID-19, or if COVID-19 infection is known to be present in the setting during the past 10 days

If the presence of COVID-19 is presumed, appropriate PPE should be worn and all principles of SICPs and TBPs followed to collect the body. If unknown, appropriate caution should be exercised and action taken accordingly. 

Transporting the deceased

As part of following the principles of SICPs and TBPs this will likely include the use of a body bag to safely transport the body. Based on current medical advice there is no specific requirement for presumed COVID-19 deceased to be placed in a body bag if all other standard infection prevention and control measures are followed, including the wearing of appropriate PPE. However, it is noted that a body bag should continue to be used following usual practice e.g. for safely transporting the body.

Placing in the coffin or body bag

If used, after sealing, the exterior of a body bag (or other transporting mechanism, such as a coffin) can be decontaminated, using a combined detergent/disinfectant solution at 1,000ppm available chlorine to mitigate any residual risk of surface contamination. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for dilution, application and contact times for all detergents and disinfectants.

If the deceased due to be collected is already placed within a body bag prior to arrival, this precaution can continue to be taken to mitigate any potential surface contamination. Funeral directors should seek to affect removal as soon as practical.

Vehicles

Private ambulances or other vehicle used to collect and transport bodies should continue to be cleaned regularly, following normal procedures. This should involve using a combined detergent/disinfectant solution at 1,000ppm available chlorine to mitigate any residual risk of surface contamination. If body fluid or blood spillage is present, use a spill kit [2]. 


First published: 25 Nov 2020 Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 -