New rules put in place to improve funeral service standards, including stricter requirements for embalmers

New guidelines have been developed for all funeral parlours in the handling of bodies. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Licensed funeral parlours with embalming facilities will now have to abide by new conditions, including ensuring that all embalmers who work on the premises are registered with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The embalmers must also have attended a basic infection control course conducted by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, and have carried out embalming procedures on at least 25 bodies locally, under the supervision of another registered professional.

The NEA, which licenses funeral parlours with embalming facilities to uphold environmental hygiene standards, said the record of embalmers and their apprentices must also be kept updated.

These tightened requirements aim to improve the standards of funeral services in Singapore, the NEA, the lead planning agency for after-death facilities and services, said on Tuesday (June 23).

Licensees were informed of the new conditions, developed in consultation with the Association of Funeral Directors Singapore (AFD), on Monday.

The new rules follow a series of recent blunders, including a mix-up at a funeral home that resulted in the wrong body being cremated. They come just a few months after the agency had issued stricter rules for licensed funeral parlours, which included locking embalming rooms at all times, with access restricted to authorised staff, and using body identification tags bearing details such as the dead person's name and gender.

Last year, The Sunday Times reported that not all embalmers received formal training or possess the relevant certificates for the job. Complaints of botched jobs, including fluid leaks, were not uncommon.

On Tuesday, the NEA said licensees must put in place proper access control to the premises, maintain records of the dead person being handled, ensure proper management of embalming by-products, and restrict preparation work on bodies to the embalming room.

"This is to ensure proper maintenance of such premises, and prevent environmental public health or pollution issues," it said.

The NEA said it would follow up with inspections and would take action against licensees for non-compliance, including the suspension or cancellation of the funeral parlour licence in the case of egregious offences.

The agency and the AFD have also developed new guidelines for all funeral parlours in the handling of bodies.

The guidelines, which aim to share industry best practices, cover areas including the collection of the dead person at the place of death, management of the bodies within licensed premises and the development of standard operating procedures.

Some of the best practices include proper verification procedures between parties and the maintenance of the personal protective equipment list within the embalming room. These guidelines are available on both the NEA and AFD websites.

The NEA said it would continue to work with the association and other stakeholders to review further areas for improvement.

The agency noted that there would be growing demand for after-death services, as well as the manpower to support such services, due to Singapore's ageing population. The annual number of deaths in the Republic is set to double from about 20,000 in 2016 to 40,000 in 2040.

"Funeral parlour operators and funeral directors have a responsibility to maintain high standards of service and accountability, to ensure that there is proper identification and respectful management of the deceased who are placed in their care," it said.

Earlier this month, the NEA put up a tender on government procurement portal GeBiz for a consultancy firm to survey the funeral services scene. The findings will be used to formulate policies for further developing the industry.

Mr Ang Zisheng, president of the AFD, said: "Funeral directors play an important role in the grief journey of the bereaving families we serve. These new guidelines encourage funeral professionals to practise them diligently according to our code of conduct, to further enhance professional funeral services in Singapore."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.