Wrong body cremated: NEA issues stricter rules for licensed funeral parlours

They include use of body identification tags, locking embalming rooms, restricting access

Licensed funeral parlours here will be held to higher standards by the National Environment Agency (NEA), after a mix-up at a funeral home late last month resulted in a wrong body being cremated.

Operators are to abide by stricter rules, which include locking embalming rooms at all times with access restricted to authorised staff, and using body identification tags bearing details such as the name and gender of the deceased.

The tightened requirements were shared in a circular NEA sent on Jan 10 to the 22 licensed funeral parlours that it oversees. The agency licenses funeral parlours with embalming facilities.

The move comes less than two weeks after the body of 82-year-old Kee Kin Tiong was mistakenly cremated on Dec 30 ahead of his funeral rites - in what is believed to be the first reported case in Singapore of such a mix-up.

The mistake occurred when an employee of Harmony Funeral Care mistakenly collected Mr Kee's body, instead of a 70-year-old man's, from the embalming room of Century Products Company, a funeral parlour with embalming facilities. Century Products has since had its licence suspended, while Harmony Funeral Care has been barred from using government after-death facilities.

Mr Kee's family members had earlier told The Straits Times they were in "great pain" over the mix-up.

NEA's director-general of public health Chew Ming Fai said in the circular that the episode highlighted the need to strengthen procedures for the handling of 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," he noted, adding that NEA will be following up with inspections to ensure compliance.

The new rules include ensuring that a system is in place to identify each body from the time it is received until the time it departs.

A tag bearing the name and gender of the deceased, the name of the firm that brought the body in, and services required for the body such as embalming, is to be attached securely to the body at all times.

Licensed operators are expected to have the tagging practice in place within two days of receiving the circular, and provide NEA with the steps in their system of identification within two weeks.

 
 
 

Embalming rooms and areas used to hold the bodies are also to be locked at all times, with access restricted to authorised personnel. This rule took effect on Jan 10.

Under the new rules, licensed operators "must engage only embalmers who are competent to conduct embalming" and keep a register of all embalmers working in the licensed premises.

NEA had asked these operators to provide it with details of all embalmers who use their premises within 30 days of the letter, including their nationality, number of bodies embalmed locally, years of local experience, and if they had attended the basic infection-control training.

Operators said they had no issues complying with the new rules.

Mr Jeffrey Lee, sales and marketing manager at Simplicity Casket, said his funeral firm, a subsidiary of Singapore Casket, has practised tagging bodies for many years, even before the new rules were imposed. It also records the time a body enters and leaves the embalming room, along with details such as which staff did the embalming.

Trinity Casket managing director Freddie Choo said his company has a case file on each body which contains information on the deceased, their next-of-kin, and arrangements for the proceedings. Copies of official documents such as death certificates are also filed.

Mr Choo said: "Every deceased is someone's loved one and must be attended to with the highest dignity and respect."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2020, with the headline 'NEA issues stricter rules for licensed funeral parlours'. Print Edition | Subscribe