Perinatal HIV Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council; Soweto Matlosana SAMRC Collaborating Centre for HIV/AIDS and TB, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. [Email]
BACKGROUND : Funeral home personnel are at risk of exposure to infectious hazards. The high prevalence of infectious diseases in South Africa means that these workers and family members of deceased individuals are vulnerable to infection if proper safety measures and equipment are not used. OBJECTIVE : To collect observational information on funeral industry practices in order to assess the safety of handling corpses and exposure to risk that could result in disease transmission. METHODS : A cross-sectional study was conducted across two locations from August to October 2015. Funeral homes in Klerksdorp and Soweto were approached. The study team did facility assessments and observed preparation practices, focusing on safety equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and contact with hazardous materials. Interviews with funeral home personnel and relatives of the deceased were also conducted. RESULTS : Of the funeral homes, 23.0% (20/87) agreed to participate. A median of 5 personnel (interquartile range 4 - 8) were employed per facility. It was observed that not all PPE was used despite availability. Gloves, aprons and face masks were most commonly worn, and no personnel were observed wearing boots, gowns or plastic sleeves. Funeral homes were located near food outlets, schools and open public spaces, and not all had access to proper biohazardous waste disposal services. Of 5 family members who were interviewed for the study, none reported being willing to partake in the funeral preparation procedure. CONCLUSIONS : There is a need to standardise the use of safety equipment, waste disposal methods and location designation in the funeral industry.