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Grave Anxiety: Swedish Church Resists Strained Swedish Undertakers' Appeals

© Holger.EllgaardThe Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden
The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden - Sputnik International
Exhausted Swedish undertakers have had enough and refuse to sink coffins into graves manually, which they claim are "too heavy" and "non-ergonomic." However, the use of any tools or machinery is prohibited, as it clearly violates the Swedish Church's ethical guidelines.

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At present, it takes four people at a time for a coffin to be lowered into a grave at Norsjö Church in Västerbotten County in northern Sweden. To complicate matters, all four must work synchronized and perform multiple tasks simultaneously, such as removing planks placed over graves. According to regional safety officer Anki Pettersson this hard work incurs occupational hazards and repetitive strain injuries, such as sore elbows and shoulders, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.

To avoid unnecessary injuries, Pettersson advocates a change to the Church of Sweden's approach. According to her, some kind of aid, such as a power shovel, would be nice. When she raised this issue with the employer, however, she was told that the Swedish Church's ethical rules did not allow the use of tools, tractors or excavators. According to the church, this would be an unworthy way of burying parishioners.

The Reverend Henry Väppling told SVT that, using machinery, coffins would dangle back and forth, which is unacceptable. According to him, the problem may be remedied by lowering the casket with ropes, an established method that should be continued.

Anki Pettersson was not satisfied and cited Sweden's work environment law, which aims is to reduce occupational injuries.

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In 2008, a church attendant in Vännäs used a backhoe during a burial ceremony, which destroyed the coffin. He was later charged for grave desecration, but was acquitted by the district court. After the incident, Reverend Maria Lundgren stepped down, and the Church of Sweden started a nationwide training of all funeral personnel in ethics and safety.

Incidentally, the proportion of Swedes buried without a ceremony has doubled in the last three years to 5.7 percent in 2016, Swedish Radio reported. The Swedish Funeral Directors Association reported that more bodies are cremated directly at the morgue.

"I believe everyone has a right to a dignified farewell. But there are relatives who find direct cremation the easiest way, to avoid going to the funeral, to put it bluntly," undertaker Mats Rendahl told Swedish Radio.


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