NEA calls for in-depth study of Singapore's funeral industry after recent blunders by operators

An urn at the wake of the late Mr Kee Kin Tiong, whose body was wrongly cremated after a mix-up at a funeral home, on Jan 3, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A comprehensive 12-month study of the country's funeral industry will be conducted to scrutinise standards and assess manpower demands.

This follows a series of recent blunders, including mix-ups, where the wrong body was cremated and where the deceased was left uncovered on an embalming table.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) put up a tender on the government procurement portal GeBiz on June 2 for a consultancy firm to survey the funeral services scene. The findings will be used to formulate policies for further developing the industry.

The NEA is the lead planning agency for after-death facilities and services here. Responding to The Straits Times, it said the study's key conclusions would be shared with the Association of Funeral Directors and other parties, so that they can "explore areas for collaboration on initiatives".

This would ensure that the funerary industry has a ready pool of competent workers, which is essential given that the country's annual deaths are set to double from about 20,000 in 2016 to 40,000 in 2040 due to its ageing population, NEA added.

"This will drive demand for after-death services infrastructure and also industry manpower to support the provision of such services."

The in-depth study will cover the entire industry, including funeral parlour operators and embalmers.

It will identify skill gaps by comparing the desired education needs of funeral firms against the qualifications of those they now hire, as well as "quality jobs" that offer competitive salaries and career progression.

The industry's standards will also be benchmarked against the best practices in other countries.

The study comes just a few months after the NEA issued stricter rules for licensed funeral parlours. These operators are held to higher standards, which include locking embalming rooms at all times with access restricted to authorised staff and using body identification tags bearing details such as the deceased's name and gender.

Mr Ang Zisheng, president of the Association of Funeral Directors, told ST that a study of the profession is "long overdue" and has come as a result of many engagement sessions with the NEA over the years.

The funeral business had been largely neglected for years, he said, adding that the study should also look into the space allocated to funeral service providers.

Funeral firms welcomed the move, which will help shape the future of the funeral profession.

Mr Ang Ziqian, chairman of Mount Vernon Sanctuary, said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the funeral profession, which serves an essential need of the community. He hopes the study will go towards offering funeral professionals a more conducive environment to work in.

Mr Jeffrey Lee, sales and marketing manager at Simplicity Casket, has observed increasing numbers of young and educated individuals who are keen on joining the trade. He said that it is only fitting to push for improvements to build up this future talent pool.

Mr Hoo Hung Chye, senior funeral director at the Singapore Funeral Services, said the industry professionals should be provided with basic training and continuing education to help them update their competencies.

This will allow them to "better serve the families and uphold the dignity of the deceased", he added.

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