Concerns over training at emergency morgues run by UK festival firm

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Recruits allege lack of training at sites in London and say they were ordered to sign NDAs

A music festival company contracted to operate emergency mortuaries in London has been accused of inadequately training workers in handling bodies, and demanding staff sign non-disclosure agreements.

Workers have not been issued with written contracts of employment but are told by text message when to report for work, according to two recruits who contacted the Guardian.

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World news | The Guardian

A music festival company contracted to operate emergency mortuaries in London has been accused of inadequately training workers in handling bodies, and demanding staff sign non-disclosure agreements.

Workers have not been issued with written contracts of employment but are told by text message when to report for work, according to two recruits who contacted the Guardian.

The temporary mortuaries, with capacity for thousands of bodies, have been set up as overflow facilities in case hospital, funeral home and local authority morgues are overwhelmed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The strategic coordination group (SCG), part of the London Resilience Forum, an umbrella group of emergency and public services coordinating the response to Covid-19, contracted Loud Sound, an events management firm that specialises in music festivals, to run the mortuaries and transport deceased people.

Two people told the Guardian they were recruited to work as “body handlers”. Recruits were sent for a day’s training at Breakspear crematorium in Ruislip, Middlesex, which lasted only two hours, they said. No medical professionals or morticians were present, they claimed, and the training consisted of “an ‘operations manager’ reading aloud from sheets of paper”.

The recruits were told there were three jobs available: drivers; “drivers’ buddies, who would move bodies into vans and accompany the drivers on their journeys; and body handlers, who would unload and store bodies at the mortuaries.

The vans used for transporting bodies were ordinary transit vans, according to the pair, with no special equipment or means of securing bodies. Each could carry two body bags on plastic trays side by side on the floor.

The recruits were told to attend a second training day at a temporary mortuary at Wanstead Flats, north-east London, the day before starting work. The training allegedly lasted 90 minutes and recruits were given no guidance on protecting themselves from bodily fluids or other potential health and safety hazards from corpses, they claimed.

Health and safety information emailed to recruits said “appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment] is mandatory for anyone working on site”. It said workers in cold storage areas should equip themselves with thermal undergarments, trousers and jackets or quilted all-in-one coverall, lightweight gloves, closed shoes and head protection, such as a baseball cap. “Additional disposable PPE will be provided on site,” it added.

The recruits were told they would be paid £12.50 an hour, working 60 hours a week from 7am to 7pm or 11am to 11pm. No contracts of employment were produced; workers would be told by text message when to report for work, and would be required to submit invoices to get paid.

NDAs were emailed to recruits to sign before starting work. Staff were given wristbands bearing the name “Hub Logistics”, which is part of Loud Sound.

The two recruits who contacted the Guardian said they raised concerns about inadequate training and PPE. They say the on-site management failed to respond properly to their complaints, and so they decided not to take up the jobs.

Their account was supported by a written statement, seen by the Guardian, from a third recruit who claimed to have been sacked after raising concerns.

One recruit said: “There was very much a sense of people just being told to wing it, and this struck me as an incredibly disrespectful and dangerous way of working. No one who has done the training has seen one medical professional involved or in any capacity at any of the sites.

“When I raised concerns they were brushed away … We were told that we would be asked to leave if we didn’t like it.”

A spokesperson for the strategic coordination group said: “All staff employed to work at the sites receive appropriate training and support for their specific roles. All staff are given the necessary PPE and extensive welfare support. All those who expressed an interest in the work were fully briefed and given the opportunity to withdraw or continue. Most chose to continue.

“The movement of the deceased is in line with funeral industry standards and best practice, and has been agreed with experts who have experience in the movement of the deceased and the risks posed in the handling of those who have tragically died from Covid-19.”

A spokesperson for the National Association of Funeral Directors said: “While [this role] can be done functionally by an untrained person, it would not be done with the expert understanding of infection control and care that funeral directors bring to the role.”


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