Funeral home workers prepare human remains for burial or cremation. Preparing human remains can also expose you to both physical and chemical hazards. Use good ergonomic principles and practice universal protective precautions to safeguard your health and wellbeing.
When preparing human remains, the first step is usually to position the body on an embalming table and remove the clothing and jewelry. Use good ergonomics when you move the body by keeping your back straight and using your legs to power the lift and other movements. Take your time. Keep your work close to you and at a comfortable height. Adjustable tables are ideal for this. If the remains are too large for you to handle alone, get help or use a lifting device.
If you manipulate the body’s limbs to relieve rigor mortis, the weight and resistance of the limbs can cause strains and sprains as you move them. Keep your back straight and use your leg muscles to power the movement. Avoid overexertion, reaching, and get help if you need it.
When you use soaps and germicides to wash the body, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from splashes. Wear gloves, clothing coveralls, and a water-proof apron. Repeated skin exposure to these cleansers can lead to drying, skin irritation, and skin sensitization or allergy.
After cleansing, if you perform sutures or work in the body cavity, wear gloves and safety goggles. Use suture needles and other sharps carefully to avoid punctures. Know where your hands are at all times. Cover and avoid the sharp ends of bones that could cause scrapes and punctures. Use universal precautions at all times to prevent exposure to potential bloodborne pathogen and to the blood and bodily fluids of the deceased. Exposures can include HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and Hepatitis B and C. HIV and Hepatitis C do not have vaccines available to prevent transmission, but consider a Hepatitis B vaccine.
Chemicals used in embalming (formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, and ethanol) are meant to preserve dead tissue; they can be very hazardous to workers. Formaldehyde is a “probable human carcinogen” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposures occur by breathing formaldehyde or having direct skin or eye contact. Cal/OSHA has occupational limits for formaldehyde and may require air monitoring to determine worker exposure levels and hazard control measures.
Consult the safety data sheet (SDS) for all of the chemicals you use in order to find out their hazards, safe work procedures, and required personal protective equipment (PPE). Use direct ventilation methods during embalming procedures and always wear your gloves and safety goggles when working with embalming fluids.
Work in the funeral industry can be stressful due to the odd hours, the often rushed schedules, and the emotional toll of dealing with human loss. Good self-care with nutrition, physical strength training, and adequate sleep can help you cope with the demands of this essential occupation.