Burial, cremation, and the funeral industry

The Public Health Act 2010 and Public Health Regulation 2022 (the Regulation) regulates the storage and preparation of the bodies of deceased persons by the funeral industry and members of the public for burial or cremation.

The Regulation expresses rules rather than explaining how the deceased are to be buried or cremated. It controls:

  • premises and facilities for storing and preparing bodies
  • handling of bodies
  • exhumations
  • cremation
  • register of mortuaries and the powers of authorised officers.

The Public Health Regulation was updated in 2022; visit our Public health legislation page to find out what has changed.

Information about cemetery and crematoria operators in NSW and burial and cremation services can be found at Cemeteries & Crematoria NSW.

The following resources have been prepared to assist the funeral industry, cemetery and crematoria operators, local government authorities, the public, and local health district public health units.

Burials and cremations

Destitute persons – cremation or burial

The Policy Directive (PD) PD2008_012 - Destitute Persons - Cremation or Burial outlines the requirements, responsibilities and procedures for the funeral and cremation or burial of deceased persons without financial means in NSW. Please note: This PD is currently under review.

Shallow burials

The Regulation allows the Secretary to approve, generally or in a particular case, a deceased person to be buried in a grave at a depth less than 900mm. An application can be made to the local health district public health unit (PHU) for this approval.

For further advice read the Shallow burials information page which includes a link to the application form.

Keeping of bodies for longer than permitted

The Regulation allows the Secretary to approve the body of a deceased person to be kept for longer than permitted (5 days since the date of death for non-funeral directors and 21 days since the date death for hospitals) subject to conditions.

For further advice read the Approval to keep the body of a deceased person for longer than permitted information page, which includes a link to the application form.

Cremation of more than one body at one time

There are circumstances where a family may request that bodies be cremated together. Generally, the cremation retort chamber is not large enough to cremate two bodies at one time.

For further advice read the Cremation of more than one body at a time information page, which includes a link to the application form.

Cremation ashes

The Cremation ashes information page provides answers to frequently asked questions we receive about the cremation of human remains and what can be done with the ashes.

Burying a body on private land

The Burials on private land information page provides guidance to people wishing to carry out a burial on private land. 

Burial not in a coffin

The Regulation allows the Secretary to approve, generally or in a particular case, the burial of a deceased person in a grave without using a coffin.

For further advice read the Burial not in a coffin information page, which includes a link to the application form.

Exhumation

The Secretary may grant an approval to exhume the remains of a deceased person’s body.

For further advice read the Exhumation of human remains information page, which includes a link to the application form.

Forms

Registration of mortuaries

Use the Notification of Mortuary form to notify NSW Health of your intention to open a Mortuary in New South Wales.

Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW keeps a register of cemeteries and crematoria. To update or add to the register email: ccnsw.register@cemeteries.nsw.gov.au.

Medical referees

The Regulation details procedures for cremation that can only be completed by a Medical Referee. For more information read the Procedure to Appoint Medical Referee, which includes an application form.

Register of Medical Referees

The South-Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) Public Health Unit:

To find a Medical Referee visit the SESLHD Public Health Unit website .

Cremation risk advice

Registered medical practitioners can advise crematoria about the risks of cremating bodies; for example, if a body:

  • has a pacemaker, or
  • contains implanted or attached battery operated medical devices, surgical equipment, or
  • has undergone certain treatments.

This example Cremation risk advice form can be downloaded and modified as required. 

Additional cremation resources

Medical referees and coroners may use the following forms to apply for a cremation permit:

Infection control

COVID–19

The  guidance in the COVID-19 – Handling of bodies by funeral directors and cemetery staff fact sheet is based on what is currently known about COVID-19 and genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have emerged throughout the world.

Transit Certificates for overseas transfers

From time to time, Local Health District Public Health Units (PHU) receive requests to provide Transit Certificates to assist with arrangements to transport deceased persons to foreign countries.

The requirements for transporting bodies to foreign countries are guided by international rules and regulations.

Form - Agreed procedure to issue a transit certificate for transportation of a body overseas

Influenza

Influenza is a viral disease that occurs seasonally, usually in winter, and causes several deaths every year.

An influenza pandemic occurs when a new strain of influenza virus emerges, spreading around the globe and infecting many people at once and the number of deaths may increase dramatically.

For further advice read the Handling of bodies by funeral directors during an influenza pandemic information page.

Preventing infection when handing bodies

The Public Health Regulation Section 83 requires a person to comply with the Infection Prevention and Control Policy published by the Ministry of Health.

This Policy Directive outlines practices required to minimise the risk of patients, visitors, volunteers, and health workers (HWs) acquiring a healthcare associated infection, multi-resistant organism colonisation or communicable disease.

Also, when carrying out any procedure on a body, it is necessary to comply with the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare published by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Inspection checklists for authorised officers

Inspection tools have been developed by the NSW Ministry of Health to support local government authorities and public health units to carry out inspections of mortuaries.

Industry stakeholders may also wish to use these tools to ensure they are meeting their obligations under the Public Health Act 2010 and the Public Health Regulation 2022.

Further advice

Current as at: Thursday 29 September 2022
Contact page owner: Environmental Health