The Slow Rise of Obesity

    Obesity and heavy bodies are becoming an increasing problem for the funeral industry.  Yes, on one hand it means a shorter life spane which is good for the industry.  But more importantly it is causing big issues and costing the whole industry a lot of time and money.  So here is a look at some changes being introduced to handle heavy bodies and why.

    Australia now has a higher number of obese people than America.  And there is countless evidence to show how Australians are getting heavier.  Indeed there is no doubt that the average weight is changing.  So the funeral industry, just like many other industries, will have to keep up with this change.

    Any body over 70kg is tricky to work with.  At 90kg they become difficult and require special attention.  The first issue we have with a heavy body is with the transfer. The transfer crew consists of two people.  Only two people and little special equipment.  This makes moving 90kg+ of dead weight very difficult.  And as I outline in the house transfers post most homes were not designed to move a body through.  Hence the saying "I hope they die on the ground floor".  So some of the first changes seen in the funeral industry are procedural changes dealing with transferring heavy bodies.  They are designing special courses solely dedicated to teaching staff how to safely move a heavy body.  These courses are targeted at western Sydney, such as Liverpool, Penrith, Eastern Creek, Paramatta, etc.  Obviously this is because there is a higher rate of obese people people in Western Sydney.  And truth be told all except for one of the heavy or obese bodies I have transfered were either from the coroners or from Westmead Hospital.

    I remember assisting the embalmer with a big guy from the Pacific Islands.  The skin on his skull was over an inch thick, and it should only be a few millimetres at most.  Usually the embalmer can work alone and have a body fully embalmed in about three hours.  However it took three of us about two days just to embalm him.  Then five of us another day to dress and coffin him.

    Special body bags and coffins for heavy or large bodies have always existed.  But their rate of use is increasing.  Now body bags with handles are becoming more common and are almost a regular site for many transfer crews.  One coffin manufacturer told me how he is making proportionately more oversize (OS) coffins than he did a few years ago.  He is also looking at different, more secure ways to attach the handles to coffins.

    Most normal OS coffins will fit in a hearse and most other spaces without too much trouble.  It might be a bit tight, but it can get about.  However the custom larger OS coffins are another story, some will not even fit in the hearse.  A transfer van is the only option for transporting a large OS coffin.  And nobody could carry it by handles, so no handles are attached (which also saves space).  They carry it on three to four long bars they place underneath the coffin.  This means there is always three to four people on each side, making it easier to carry.  However this coffin is too large for most cemeteries and crematoriums.  We struggle to fit something like that through a large door, having to go through the service garage door.

    Most of these large coffins do not fit in many regular crematoriums, either through the doors or in the 'burner' itself.  Just last year crematorium set about installing a spacial new 'burner' to cremate larger bodies.  It will have a bigger door and more space inside because they had a couple of bodies that would not fit in the crematorium.  They had to get the funeral director to re-coffin the body into a smaller custom made coffin with thin walls.  Squishing up the body to do so.  A regular 'burner' costs over $250,000 just to buy, let alone install.  So a special larger one will cost a lot more.  Yet it is obviously worth it and they will be one of the only crematoriums to have the larger accommodation.  The average burning time is about 3 hours for most bodies.  However they have had a couple in recent time who took 24-36 hours.  This is a big difference from most people.

    Recently the coroners at Glebe installed a special lifting machine over the lift we use to load bodies in and out of the coroners.  This lifting device is designed to move a body between the coroners trolleys and the transfer stretcher.  It is not just bolted onto the roof but has its own special frame built into the roof and has a weight rating of up to 400kg.  This would have easily cost tens of thousands to buy and install.  And the coroners had their last budget heavily slashed so much they had to reduce staff in some areas.  But again, just like the special cremator it is worth it.

    There were rumours that the cemeteries were considering increasing the size of grave plots.  You can buy larger plots, or double sized plots.  But the rumour was that they were looking at increasing the average size of plots.  And cemeteries are very space conscious.  They covert space and hold on to it with devotion, always desiring and devouring more.  After all, once a space is taken it will be decades before it may become open again.  Waverly for example is mostly closed, to buy a plot there would cost at least $70,000 for just one, if it is even available.  And selling space is worth a lot, they even take out or shrink roads to make space for more grave plots.  Others constantly try to expand into neighbouring national parks or empty land.  For the cemeteries to increase plot size would be to lose land, which is a massive issue for the cemetery.

    Overall many new procedures, technologies and attitudes are being developed to deal with the increasing number of obese people in Australia.  All at great cost, time and effort.  But in the end many organisations see it as worth it.


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