What Does a Crematory Operator Really Do?

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Crematory operators have one of the most significant jobs outside of a mortician or a funeral director. These people are responsible for caring for our loved one’s remains, ensuring respectful treatment, and properly cremating them, which is a crucial job in a growing industry.

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While most people have a general idea of what cremation is, few understand the ins and outs of the job and what crematory operators do on a daily basis.

What’s a Crematory Operator?

While most people know enough about cremation to understand that it’s a process that uses heat and flame to reduce a person’s body to bone and ash, very few know exactly how cremation works.

The right person to ask, of course, would be a crematory operator, as they can supply all the facts about cremation you’d ever want to know.

Care for bodies of the deceased

Not only do they understand as much about death as an undertaker, but one of the primary responsibilities of a crematory operator is to respectfully care for the bodies of the deceased. As soon as a body comes into the crematory, they are solely responsible to ensure proper paperwork is filed for the deceased and that their identity papers remain with the body at all times.

There have been scandals with crematories not returning the ashes of the right person to grieving families and, sometimes, not returning ashes at all. Because of this, professionalism regarding paperwork and ensuring a person’s identity is vitally important.

A crematory operator will care for a body from the moment it is received to the process of cremation and afterward when cremains are placed into their sealed package and delivered to the family.

Perform the task of cremating

Before a person can be cremated, the body must be prepared. This includes the following:

  • Removing jewelry to return unless family members requested it stay with the body.
  • Removing mechanical or battery-operated prosthetics and medical devices to avoid reactions inside the cremation chamber. 
  • Placing the body inside a strong combustible container.
  • Placing the body into the cremation chamber.

Once the body is placed inside the chamber and the unit has been closed and inspected for safety, cremation will begin at the push of a button. The operator will carefully monitor what occurs inside the chamber and, in about three hours, cremation will be complete.

Once the remains are allowed to cool for one to two hours, the remaining bone fragments are collected and ground down with a special device into ashes. The ashes are placed into a special, thick waterproof bag and then into a container from the crematorium or into a family-provided urn.

Transport bodies to the crematory or deliver cremated remains

Though not all crematory operators are responsible for transport and delivery, some are. Depending on where you work and the extent of defined job responsibilities, crematories might be tasked with picking up bodies from the morgue and transporting them to the crematory. 

Most crematories offer delivery services. If services are chosen by the family, the crematory operator will deliver a loved one’s cremains to a designated family member or cemetery.

Explain procedures to family members

There is a bit of a trend in the cremation world known as “witness cremations.” These are cremations that are attended by one or more members of the family. While there, the crematory operator explains the process of cremation, what will happen to their loved one’s body, and how long the process will take. They can even let family members push the button to start the process.

Though not hugely popular, witness cremations are becoming more of a trend as families view it as an opportunity to say their final goodbyes and have a part in the process.

Keep track of all documentation related to the deceased

Documentation is an important part of maintaining a person’s identity and tracking bodies through the process of cremation. Not only are bodies identified and tagged upon entering the crematory, but the tag stays with the body and is even placed with the cremains.

Maintain crematorium equipment and facilities

As with any job, maintenance and cleaning of the equipment and facilities are one of the standard parts of a crematory operator’s job. The crematorium chamber must be cleaned after each use and the room the chamber is in also needs a good cleaning at the end of each day. 

Crematory operators might also be tasked with maintaining the front office and other areas that are used by office staff and to receive families.

Work odd hours

Crematory operators don’t just work from 9 to 5. They might get called in to cremate a loved one during the early morning, weekends, and nights. Because of the nature of their job, crematory operators need to be flexible and have families that understand that they’ll be asked to work during all hours of day and night, weekends, and holidays.

ยป MORE: Do you know someone who's experiencing a loss? This checklist is here to help.

 

How Do You Become a Crematory Operator?

The job of a crematory operator is one of many jobs that can be reached in several ways. Since there are several different paths, it makes this job accessible to many including those who can’t afford to go to college or those who need a career change and don’t want to go back to school. 

Graduate high school or get a GED

While you don’t have to go to college to become a crematory operator, you do have to graduate high school or obtain a GED (also known as a General Education Development). This is the first step to most jobs in today’s workforce so it’s always good to complete this level of education.

The college route

Going to college is one of two primary methods of getting involved in cremation services and obtaining a job as an operator. If you decide to go to college to start out on your journey, you’d want to obtain a degree in mortuary science or another funeral services-related major. During your time in school, you’ll learn things like:

  • How to run a funeral home
  • Methods of accounting
  • Psychology of death and dying
  • Funeral service law
  • Chemistry

Many colleges offer crematory operator certification as part of the program, so you graduate with an incredibly well-rounded knowledge that encompasses the entire mortuary field. If you know you want to become a crematory operator and would rather not get a full four-year bachelor’s degree, some programs offer an associate’s degree in mortuary science and include a crematory operator certification.

The apprenticeship route

If college isn’t your thing, then you’d go with door number two and choose the apprenticeship route. As an apprentice, you’ll be taught directly by the morticians and crematory operators where you intern. You’ll learn things like:

  • How to operate machinery 
  • Operational and personal safety
  • Ethics of the business
  • How to work with grieving families
  • How to work with people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds
  • How to plan a memorial service with a grieving family

Once you’ve completed a full apprenticeship or internship, you may have gotten good enough that the manager even wants to hire you. However, your road to becoming a crematory operator may not be complete just yet. 

Find out if you need licensing

Twenty-four states require certification for a college student or an apprentice to become a crematory operator. However, that leaves twenty-six that do not require any certification to take on a job as a crematory operator. 

To determine the status of whether your state requires licensing, check the Crematory Association of North America’s up-to-date state-by-state licensing requirements for crematory operators. There, you’ll be able to determine if you need certification and whether you can obtain it online.

Keep in mind: Even if your state doesn’t require certification, individual crematories might. Becoming certified will help open doors to jobs anywhere you apply.

Obtain a Crematory Operator Certification

Most states require all crematory operators to be licensed. The Crematory Association of North America is both a popular certification choice and the leader in certification standards. As such, theirs is the best certification you can obtain, though there are other certifications available. 

If you choose certification with the Crematory Association of North America, you can complete your certification during one all-day course in person or online. 

How Much Does a Crematory Operator Typically Make?

How much you can make as a crematory operator depends heavily on where you’re located. The more populated the location or region you serve and the greater demand for your services can result in a better praying technician or operator job. 

According to current statistics gathered from job information around the United States, the average salary for an operator is around $15 an hour. That’s just over $31,500 annually before taxes are taken out. Keep in mind that around 7 percent is taken out for tax, so you’re really looking at somewhere around $29,300.

Most people earn anywhere from $28,000 to $34,500. To get a clear picture of how widely annual salaries vary for this position, the lowest salary is about $24,000 and the highest is just around $40,000.

So where can you go for the better-paying operator jobs if this is a career path that interests you? Results reveal that California is the best place to be with seven of the top ten nationwide salaries coming from the land of perennial sunshine. Other places include Texas, Connecticut, and Washington state.

Crematory Operators Providing a Dignified Ending

Crematory operators have one of the most important roles in providing our deceased loved ones with a dignified ending. They are often the last to see the person’s body and the first to greet family members. It’s a job that each operator undertakes with a great amount of pride, responsibility, and dedication.


Sources

  1. “What is Mortuary Science Really Like?” News, Goodwin University, 2020, www.goodwin.edu/enews/what-is-mortuary-science/ 
  2. Thompson, Molly. “How to be a Crematorium Technician.” Careers, Houston Chronicle, work.chron.com/crematorium-technician-2296.html
  3. “How to Become a Crematory Operator.” Crematory Operator, Zip Recruiter, 2021, www.ziprecruiter.com/e/How-to-Become-a-Crematory-Operator 
  4. “CANA’s Crematory Operations Certification Program.” Crematory Operations Certification Program, Cremation Association of North America, cremationassociation.org/page/COCP
  5. “Crematory Operator.” Funeral Services, Wilbert Funeral Services, 19 January 2017. appone.com/MainInfoReq.asp?ServerVar=wilbertfuneralservicesinc.appone.com&R_ID=1494475
  6. Linkletter, Alexis. “A Crematory Operator Explains What It’s Like.” Interviews, VICE, 21 July 2015, vice.com/en/article/avy3wk/an-interview-with-a-crematory-operator-in-detroit-720

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