Obesity crisis means cranes used for plus-size coffins in Northern Ireland cemeteries
An obesity epidemic in Northern Ireland means cranes are now being used in cemeteries and requests for plus-size coffins have become an everyday occurrence.
Coffins which weigh more than 25 stone are now so common that Belfast City Council is regularly having to take precautions to protect workers at Roselawn Cemetery from injury.
However, Portadown funeral director Ian Milne said he is regularly dealing with bodies weighing between 30-45 stone, which not only need larger coffins, but also specialist vehicles if they are too heavy for a traditional hearse.
One local coffin maker said his firm receives requests for out-sized coffins on a daily basis - a difference he has seen rise dramatically over the last six years.
A survey by the Department of Health revealed last October that 27% of people in Northern Ireland are obese. A further 36% are overweight.
This evening, Belfast City Council's People and Communities committee will consider an update given to the Cemeteries and Crematoria Working Group over heavier coffins.
Where the weight of a coffin is over 25 stone, a small crane is hired to assist with the process of lowering it into the grave.
To protect cemetery staff and ensure the right resources are in place, funeral directors are now being asked to work with council workers to prepare for heavier coffins.
However, the issue is not restricted to Belfast, and Mr Milne said bigger coffins are now common.
"One of the biggest problems can be when we are repatriating people, and accommodating the size of larger coffins, and that can also make it more expensive for people," he said.
"Funeral directors are often dealing with people between 30-45 stone now.
"Sometimes you can't use a hearse - you have to use a Ford Galaxy because the coffins are too wide for the hearse."
One specialised coffin maker said the surge for different sizes has grown enormously over the last six years, and the shapes can vary from customer to customer.
"We would refer to larger coffins as 'out-sized' or 'specialist' - it can be a hard one to term," he said. "I took over the business six years ago and in those six years the growth has been phenomenal."
He added: "The out-sized coffins do tend to be more expensive than standard coffins as they are specialised."