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Stiffer regulations for funeral homes

Published:Friday | March 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson (right) in discussion with Meadowrest Memorial Gardens board member, S. LeRoi Lorde (second left), during the annual appreciation function for funeral directors at Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday. Looking on are (from left): Moderator, United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Rev. J. Oliver Daley, and Meadowrest Memorial Gardens board member, Vinton Griffiths. - CONTRIBUTED

JAMAICA'S HIGHLY lucrative funeral industry will soon be forced to operate under stricter government guidelines.

The Ministry of Health is moving to bridge gaps in service, environmental and public-health standards that have widened while the funeral industry has operated freely, with little regulation.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson made the commitment to create a regulatory framework for the industry during his tenure, while addressing some of the island's funeral directors at the Meadowrest Memorial Gardens annual appreciation function on Tuesday.

"It is not enough for you to just register as a business," the health minister said.

"There's going to be need for public-health certification as well. Our own standards and regulation division, environmental health unit and pesticide control authority, will ensure there is a greater level of scrutiny and improved compliance in order to safeguard public health and the environment."

Dr Ferguson said regulation would make the funeral industry a more sophisticated player in the business community and a legitimate contributor to the economy, enjoying greater public confidence and a higher level of business activity.

Many unregulated players

He noted that there are too many unregulated operators in the industry, adding that the Government has an obligation to ensure that those who operate in the industry are observing proper public-health standards in respect of the different aspects of the business.

"While the Government has an indispensable role to safeguard public health, the players in this industry must be vigilant to ensure that the operators are observing good public-health practices and that their workers are properly protected on a daily basis. Proper attention must be given in the storage, use and disposal of protective gears and chemicals that are essential to your operation."

The health minister's announcement has already received much support from key players in the funeral business, with many saying the move towards tighter regulation has been a long time coming.

"We all concur with the minister that whatever regulation comes will offer well for the industry," said Joseph Cornwall, director of House of Tranquility Funeral Home which operates in Kingston and Portmore.

"It's not a matter of hope; we have to, because the bereaved families are the ones who suffer. If you have more trained people in the industry it uplifts the standards, because there are more people that know what they're doing. You are dealing with chemicals, their usage and proper storage and you cannot entrust this to a layman. It has to be somebody who is so trained to handle hazardous chemicals"

Cornwall also pointed to the absence of a training facility in Jamaica, where morticians can be certified, as the cause of many of the industry's problems.

Calvin Lyn of Lyn's Funeral Home in Manchester said the Government's commitment is a decade late.