The funeral sector
16.29Cremation is a process whereby the body is reduced to ashes and cremains (larger pieces of bone that do not fully burn) through a high-temperature combustion process within a cremator unit, which is essentially a furnace. Bodies are cremated one at a time with the process taking between two to four hours. The casket is also cremated. The cremains are crushed to uniform size in a cremulator and are then known as “ashes”. The ashes are given to family members or held by the cremator operator and then interred or scattered if unclaimed for a reasonable period.
16.30In his article on the history of funeral directing in New Zealand, Cyril Schaefer states that funeral directors perceived their role to be threatened by the development of crematoria in the 1960s by city councils. Funeral directors found they had no control of the timing of cremation services at council-run facilities. This sometimes meant a funeral service had to be truncated, or conversely, significant time was spent waiting around. As a consequence, from the 1980s, when cremator units became smaller and more affordable, funeral directors began setting them up in their own funeral homes. Many also built catering facilities and chapels in order to offer a complete service. For every crematorium owned by a local authority, there are three to four that are privately owned and operated.
16.31Although national cremation statistics are not collected, the funeral industry estimates that about 70 per cent of deceased New Zealanders are cremated each year. The rates of cremation vary significantly from region to region and amongst demographic groups. Cost appears to be a major factor in why people choose cremation because it is significantly cheaper than burial. Cultural or religious reasons may also influence preferences about burial or cremation.
Legislative obligations on cremator operators
16.32The main legislative provisions for the operation of crematoria are in the Cremation Regulations 1973. Those regulations are designed to ensure that there are checks and accountability around the cremation of bodies. This includes requirements to:
- keep records;
- maintain the crematorium in good working order and clean condition;
- appoint competent attendants;
- ensure an application form has been completed;
- not cremate unless a medical referee has certified that the legislative requirements have been complied with; and
- retain and deal with ashes that have not been delivered to the bereaved family.
16.33We discussed the current medical referee system in Chapter 3. We conclude there that the system does not provide the checks and accountability that it is intended to provide and should be replaced by a national audit system for cause of death determinations.
16.34Many cremator operators will also be funeral directors and, in that capacity, members of FDANZ or NZIFH. FDANZ members who operate crematoria are required by the FDANZ Code of Professional Conduct to have a set of protocols and procedures for the operation of a cremator and a policy regarding the storage and disposal of ashes. FDANZ has also recently issued guidance to funeral directors who deal with ashes of deceased persons.
16.35Local authorities that operate crematoria may become members of the newly established New Zealand Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective (NZCCC). That organisation was established in 2012 as a support and advisory group for cemeteries and crematoria. Its objectives include developing and promoting industry standards in the operation of cemeteries and crematoria.
16.36Training in how to operate cremator units is usually conducted by the manufacturer of the cremator unit. Currently, there is no formal qualification specifically for operating a cremator, although we are advised that NZQA-accredited training units in cremator operation are being developed by the Primary Industry Training Organisation.