Nobody likes paperwork. It’s a pain in the rear and a nuisance. Filling out forms and checking off boxes is a waste of valuable time for the crematory operator, am I right? That statement is as wrong as saying the earth is flat.
I like paperwork – I'm a weirdo – and documentation and record keeping policies, and following them consistently, are just as important as any other task performed in the crematory. This includes the safe and efficient operation of the cremation equipment. I have seen first-hand the effect of poor operating procedures on a business and on the community. I am on a mission to change this, but I am only one guy.
So, if you understand the reasoning behind all of this paperwork and documentation, you can better appreciate its importance. Even more important is understanding the impact of not following your company record-keeping and documentations policy consistently.
The Point of Paperwork
State laws dictate what paperwork is required for the cremation of the deceased, and it is important that you comply with these regulations. Because cremation is irreversible, it is crucial that you document each and every step of the process. Proper and consistent paperwork reduces the risk of litigation in the event you are accused of doing something wrong. When you make a mistake, it’s easy to deal with. Admit your error, make good on it, take your medicine and move on with your life. The hard part is when you are accused of doing something wrong that you did not do. Without proper documentation it can be difficult to prove your innocence.
So what’s the key to a successful cremation business? There are countless books about strategy, procedures, and processes, but this is one of my favorite quotes:
Strong businesses have strong policies.
– Vicente Falconi, management guru
Crematory Management Program
So my company and CANA have partnered to create the Crematory Management Program to develop a framework – a table of contents if you will – for standard operating procedures that can be customized to each business. This is a resource for CANA Members to help them develop their own SOP Manual -- with samples and examples (and a free consultation with me) to get your existing policies and procedures in one place, in order, and identify what your company is missing.
We based it on four overview categories that we will introduce here, with a focus just on the paperwork:
Core Policies and Procedures
These are the things that are at the 30,000-foot view, meaning the overarching and guiding policies for your business. On the paperwork side, Document Retention Policies and filing procedures are important. These are determined in part by your state/provincial regulators, and part your business practices. If you can’t find something, even if it was filled out perfectly, it doesn’t exist. No one likes to file paperwork, but an organized file system could save your job someday. I often recommend, when I’m helping firms who use electronic file systems, to keep records forever. Why not? A lot of cremation professionals are used to the paper, but electronic files are not only responsible environmentally, but easier to store and locate.
Equipment Operations Procedures
Equipment is my favorite part since I built them for so many years. Here, you need to document your equipment and how to run it and maintain it. You need written procedures for how cases move through your operation. Your firm should have a comprehensive written procedure guide outlining the steps in the process from receipt of the deceased to return of the cremated remains, and it should include the associated forms, verification, and documentation required. In the crematory, there are forms for the operator to fill out and forms that are already complete. The operator is responsible for verifying the presence, accuracy and validity of these already completed forms prior to each next step in the process.
Maintenance and inspection is one section that's completely populated in the CANA Member resource of the Crematory Management Program. Basically, your schedules and logs, maintenance records, outside/third-part inspection records are all there. I love the idea of the outside/third-party inspection -- that means if someone -- like a regulator or one of your families -- asks, you can pull that report that shows what an inspector found, how you addressed it, and what you're doing right. Plus, your maintenance records keep a clear list of your investment in your existing equipment and prepare for a future capital investment.
Forms and Authorizations
You likely know the necessary forms and authorizations to keep your business running, but all of the paperwork in the world is worthless without compliance and consistency. Be thorough and complete with every entry every time. If you leave a field blank it will raise a red flag. Was that field forgotten? Or was it really not applicable? If there is a space to record information, and you either do not have that information or it doesn’t apply to this individual, mark that fact down in the space. An incomplete form is worse than not having a form in the first place, when it comes to covering your backside.
Write legibly when filling out forms. A document that you cannot read is worthless. Never use whiteout if you make a mistake filling in a field. It’s better to cross out the mistake with a single line and put the correct information in next to the error. Initial and date the correction. Whiteout can make someone think you changed the document entry after the fact, to cover your mistake. Keeping a mistake transparent is always better when defending your actions.
What’s the importance of human resources? Your business can’t do anything without staff to run it. So think about roles-based operational procedures. The procedures should dictate what the results are – not the people doing them. The people doing them should fit the skill set and do them per your policy and procedures. Doing it the same way every time helps assure that mistakes are not made. If you never do it differently, you will do it right every time. Knowing and being able to say you do it right every time is a powerful statement to make.
Why We Do It
The most important reason to consistently follow all documentation and record keeping policies and procedures is the fact that doing so will virtually eliminate doing the wrong thing. It’s not just about the risk and the money. It’s the obligation to the families. A crematory operator is a vital part of the overall process of turning a dead body into a living memory for a family. It is absurd to think that any good operator would want to do anything less than a perfect job for the family of the deceased. After all, it’s more about the family than anything else, right?
A well-developed SOP Manual wrapped in a pretty bow is not the end-game. Once completed, it will not do you any good on the bookshelf, no matter how great the processes are. The final document, a customized and complete SOP Manual must be a continuous, living, breathing part of your day to day business. CANA's Crematory Management Program is a benefit to our members to help you ensure your policies and procedures are comprehensive, implemented and enforced.
Developed with Cremation Strategies & Consulting, this program provides step-by-step instructions to build a Standard Operating Procedures Manual to reduce liability, improve employee on-boarding and training, and ensure that operations are done correctly, efficiently, and consistently.
See more and get started: goCANA.org/crematorymanagement
This article is excerpted from "All Systems Go: The Importance of Paperwork and Record Keeping" by Larry Stuart, Jr. which first appeared in The Cremationist Vol. 54, Issue 1 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. This is part of the recurring column All Systems Go! written specifically for the crematory operator and featuring an assortment of practical knowledge regarding operations, maintenance, and best practices for running an efficient, safe, and cost-effective crematory.
Larry Stuart, Jr. is a graduate of Kent State University and is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) as Supplier Liaison. Through his experience Larry has seen first-hand the negative impact that poor crematory maintenance and improper operating procedures can bring about. Larry has spoken at numerous industry events and has conducted crematory operator training classes across North America with a mission to advance the safety of cremation facilities and their employees and to more positively impact our community and our environment. For more information please visit larrystuartjr.com/about