Australia Starting to Hammer Down on Dodgy Funeral Operators

May 16, 2011
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INFECTIOUS medical waste is being buried with the dead by shonky funeral operators trying to cut costs.

A Sunday Mail investigation has revealed that rogue funeral operators are ignoring public health risks and ripping off grieving families.

Queensland Attorney-General Paul Lucas said yesterday that a mandatory, state-sanctioned code of conduct would help clean up the industry.

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An industry whistleblower and another long-term legitimate operator detailed how dodgy funeral operators:

  • Stuff into coffins infectious waste material containing bodily fluids to save money in infectious waste collection;
  • Refuse to dress bodies, throwing clothes provided by grieving families into coffins;
  • Risk a mix-up of bodies by transporting deceased to other parts of the state for funeral preparation;
  • Slug parents burying a child with the cost of an adult-size coffin.

Funeral operators could be made to meet strict new standards to be enforced with penalties for the first time.

The Queensland Government is working on reforming the funeral business in a bid to weed out the cowboys, strengthen confidence in the industry and give grieving families greater peace of mind.

In Queensland, the funeral industry is not licensed or regulated, leaving families vulnerable to dodgy operators.

Almost 10 years after the then-Beattie government was told of horror stories and promised change, new Attorney-General Paul Lucas has now outlined the need for a shake-up.

But he did not want the higher standards to increase funeral costs.

“I think the case for change is clear,” Mr Lucas told The Sunday Mail.

New allegations about cost-cutting, callous treatment of bodies and families being ripped off have sparked concerns by legitimate operators.

National Funeral Directors Association president Michelle Staunton, who runs her own business in southeast Queensland, said the majority of funeral operators did the right thing but she acknowledged the industry needed more scrutiny.

“There are people out there who see it as a way to make money,” Mrs Staunton said.

She said some operators might not have appropriate facilities or refrigeration, explaining why some families were talked out of open viewings.

Many funeral directors belong to industry associations, which have their own codes of conduct, but self-regulation has not been able to lock callous operators out of the market.

Mr Lucas said that while the Office of Fair Trading had received only 31 complaints about the industry since 2006, new rules could be developed that would enhance the industry’s reputation.

“I think a mandatory code of conduct is something worth very serious consideration,” Mr Lucas said.

“Strong industry self-regulation in partnership with a state-sanctioned mandatory code of conduct is a good way to go.”

Mr Lucas said he recently met with industry representatives and discussions about strengthening the governance and conduct of operators was ongoing.

The types of penalties and how they would be enforced are still being discussed.

Mr Lucas’s responsibilities centre on Fair Trading and consumers’ rights while Department of Environment and Resource Management regulates clinical waste.

Source

Photo Credit: David Kapernick

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