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Grieving families may have to lower their loved ones into the ground after a council's gravedigger claims for back injuries

By Donna Deeney

Published 13/08/2015

A coffin being lowered into a grave
A coffin being lowered into a grave

A council looks set to rule that bereaved families must bury their own dead.

The local authority has stopped gravediggers from helping to lower coffins into the ground in a move that has been branded "health and safety rules gone mad".

Causeway Coast and Glens Council looks likely to impose a total ban on its employees lifting or lowering coffins during burial after one gravedigger claimed for back injuries.

The situation at Limavady's Enagh Cemetery currently is that the council gravediggers give assistance to family members when lowering the coffin of their loved ones into the grave.

The council is seeking to have the responsibility for lifting the coffin to the grave and lowering it for burial passed on to undertakers and the grieving relatives.

Since the new supercouncil came into being last April, a revised set of rules which will bring all council-owned cemeteries into line has been drawn up.

Talks between undertakers in the area and council officers on the new draft of rules and regulations governing burials failed to reach agreement at the latest Environmental Services meeting.

The matter will return for further discussion next month.

All councils have their own rules governing burials, but one local undertaker who carries out burials in several council areas including Belfast, Antrim and Lisburn, says gravediggers are required to assist in the burial.

It was recently revealed that the straps used in the lowering of the coffin have to be thrown into the grave afterwards because of the fear of contamination from poisonous formaldehyde seeping through the ground from other graves.

Causeway Coast councillor Boyd Douglas thinks it will be a step too far to ban council gravediggers from giving assistance to families at what is a very sensitive time.

He said: "I know it is mostly family members who lower the coffin of their loved one into the grave, but there are times when there are not enough people attending a burial to lower the coffin.

"This is where the council gravediggers would have stepped in to help, but now council officers are considering stopping the practice.

"It was agreed at the last meeting and it will come back for more discussion next month, but I think it is a case of health and safety rules gone mad.

"There are around 70 different rules governing burials and funerals and most are straightforward, but this issue has proved to be a sticking point.

"If it is passed, it will be down to the individual funeral director to provide people to lower the coffin and I suppose that will mean additional cost to the family."

The Director of Environmental Services at the council was unavailable for interview, but a spokeswoman said: "Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is currently reviewing its rules and regulations for cemeteries and burial grounds.

"Further discussions will take place with all relevant organisations in relation to the amendments proposed and this will be brought back to the Environmental Services Committee for further consideration."

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