Mortuary tables or embalming tables seem like an innocuous piece of equipment, but in reality, they play a big role in maintaining the safety of the person handling the body. It surprises many people to discover that blood drained during the embalming process goes into the sewer system for treatment by a municipal waste treatment plant. Embalming tables are specifically designed to efficiently aid with the disposal of blood. However, beyond the safety factor, the mortuary tables or embalming tables also are designed for convenience, enabling the easy moving and handling of the deceased.
Mortuary tables are used in a variety of settings and by different people. They include hospital staff, medical schools, and mortuary facilities. The embalming tables have a part to play in keeping the people using the tables safe.
Oregon OSHA, like many states, wrote a manual for "Occupational safety for the death care industry" that describes the hazards embalming operations present. They include chemical, biological and musculoskeletal. The biological exposures include blood that is potentially infected with viruses like AIDS or hepatitis C. One of the factors that increases risk of exposure to viruses and other blood borne pathogens is the accumulation of blood on embalming tables which increases the chances of exposure.
Embalming tables are designed to make blood drainage more efficient with tilting ends directing blood flow into the drain to minimize blood pooling. Also lowering the chance of exposure to infections is stainless steel construction. Bacteria can grow on almost any surface, including stainless steel. One study published in the "International Journal of Food Microbiology" found that staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enteritidis could survive for at least 4 days on stainless steel, so thoroughly cleaning the embalming table is critical to the embalmer's personal safety. However, stainless steel remains the first-choice material because it is resistant to microorganisms and is non-porous so does not promote bacteria growth. It is also very easy to disinfect.
In the musculoskeletal area, embalmers are at risk of physical injury from handling the body which includes lifting, moving and transferring. The embalming tables are height adjustable so that embalmers or other people handling the body do not strain their back and arms by working with a table that is too high or too low. Some mortuary tables, like the hydraulic embalming table, have removable end handles that make it easier to reach all parts of the body while also assisting with table relocation when in place.
Embalming tables are designed to help the embalmer complete the necessary process of preparing a body for a funeral followed by a burial. The table has features that make the preparation process simpler and more efficient. For example, a mortician will embalm the body, conduct a number of procedures to make the deceased look as natural as possible for viewing by family and friends, and dress the body. Mortuary tables that tilt make each step easier, from the discarding of body and embalming fluids to the final dressing process.
Other features to consider from the convenience perspective include:
- Table height – Is the table height adjustable to accommodate the different heights of the person handling the deceased? What type of adjustment system does the table have – foot lever that works hydraulics or manual adjustment system.
- Table size – The table top should be large enough to accommodate most adult men and women.
- Drainage design – What kind of fluid drainage system is built into the table? Where is the drainage hole located? What is the depth of the drainage trough? Is the table center concave, convex or flat?
- Cleaning – Stainless steel is the most common metal used in mortuary tables because it is easily cleaned and will not stain. If other materials, like plastic, are used, it is important to verify that it is stain resistant. Otherwise, the table will appear soiled and is likely to become a breeding ground for germs.
- Mobility – As mentioned, mortuary tables and embalming tables are used for embalming and dressing the deceased. They are also used to move the deceased person's body from one location to another. The table selected should have locking wheels to hold it in place when in use.
- Options – Options providing convenience include a head mobilizer, ability to adjust the tilt of one end of the table at either end, ability to fold the table flat for storage, etc.
Beyond the First Glance
Mortuary tables and embalming tables are an important piece of equipment for many reasons. They are designed with several features that support the embalming, autopsy, dressing and other procedures concerning the deceased. They may look simple at first glance, but today's design reflects a better understanding of things like ergonomics, safety and bacteria growth.