Risks of Biohazard Cleanup

If you have ever witnessed a biohazard cleanup – or even seen a biohazard suit – it is hard not be struck by the amount of safety concern at work.

Covered from head to toe in jumpsuit, gloves, shoe coverings, goggles and full-face respirator, the biohazard remediator looks set to tackle the most dangerous atmospheres known to man…And there’s a reason for that.

Any time you come into contact with blood or bodily fluids – such as urine, feces and vomit – there is a risk of infection from virus, bacteria, fungi or other hazardous microorganisms. Referred to as Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) and/or Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIM), these organisms can cause severe sickness and even death. Improperly handling any hazardous material can lead to infection from BBP such as HIV, Hepatitis (B and C), Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), E. Coli, norovirus or C. difficile.

In short, if you are cleaning in the aftermath of any crime, accident or unattended death, then you had better not only be fully protected but also know exactly what you are doing and why.

Why Basic Standards Are Required

Consider some quick data – all from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Health and Human Services (HHS):

  • Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV (and one in seven carriers don’t even know they are infected).
  • Approximately 850,000 people in the U.S. are living with Hepatitis B (a number which could be as high as 2.2 million, as more than half of those infected do not know they are infected).
  • Approximately 2.4 million people in the U.S. are living with Hepatitis C (again, a number which could be as high as 4.7 million).

And since each of these infections are BBP with viruses that can live for hours and even days outside of the body and on other surfaces, you can now see why it is not only smart but an absolute necessity for anyone working with blood and bodily fluids to make safety priority number one.

That certainly includes biohazard remediators, and that is why crime and accident scene cleaners train their employees in the latest Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

Meeting OSHA standards ensures that workers understand the hazards associated with exposure to bloodborne viruses – and “exposure” includes direct contact with non-intact skin (skin with cuts or lesions present), accidental injury from biological fragments, inhalation and even contact with splashes of blood or bodily fluid to the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Therefore, OSHA standards ensure that any employee coming into contact with BBP knows how to both safely avoid exposure and also how to clean any contaminated property so that anyone else that comes into future contact with that property will avoid exposure.

What Full Cleaning Entails

Beyond Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the safe handling of BBP, safe remediation of any property also includes the understanding of how to sanitize anything that has come into contact with potentially hazardous materials.

This means either: neutralizing any pathogens present on the property or removing any articles that cannot be properly cleaned.

Neutralizing pathogens requires a detailed and working knowledge of a whole range of chemicals not available on the open market. For instance, bio-remediators often use enzymes when dealing with blood or bodily fluids in order to safely and effectively clean any contaminated surfaces. There are also other key chemicals that require a detailed knowledge in order to use effectively and safely. It is just one part of the work required from any serious biohazard cleanup company.

A trained and experienced crime scene cleaner would know not only how to remove blood and bodily fluids safely from a scene but also where to look for potential pathogens. For example, blood and bodily fluids can penetrate a number of surfaces and still remain dangerous despite being unseen. That is why a bioremediation professional should be able to determine potentially compromised surfaces and materials, no matter the situation – such as subflooring, drywall, grout and even underlying structural elements.

Sometimes, there are also substances that simply cannot be effectively cleaned and therefore must be removed. That includes carpets and rugs, which if contaminated by BBP or OPIM are too porous to be effectively cleaned and must be removed and effectively destroyed.

These are just some aspects of the task. And leaders in bioremediation also train their employees in OSHA standards and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of:

  • Hazard Communication – This ensures that all employees understand safe storage and usage of all chemicals at use by the business. Also ensures that employees understand how to describe the use and standards of these chemicals to downstream customers.
  • Fall Protection – This helps to ensure that all employees are aware of fall hazards, whether related to working at heights or in dangerous situations, such as holes in floors and walls. Therefore, the bio-remediator is aware of how to avoid these hazards.
  • Lift Safety – The NIOSH has developed a mathematical model that helps predict the risk of injury based on the weight being lifted and other criteria – a model based on medical research of compressive forces needed to cause damage to bones and ligaments of the back. And all biohazard employees should be aware of this information.
  • Heat safety – While OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in hot environments, it does recognize that employers have a duty to protect workers from serious hazards in the workplace, including heat-related hazards. It has thus developed a guide to helps employers and worksite supervisors prepare and implement hot weather plans, including the understanding of the heat index in order to determine when extra precautions are needed at a worksite to protect workers from environmental contributions to heat-related illness. And when you are wearing a full biohazard suit, you can believe that heat can play a significant role in the workplace. Therefore, prepared protocols should be in place in order to ensure employee safety.
  • Protective Equipment Protocols – As already mentioned, proper and safe remediation requires a litany of PPE, and the standards required by each company should be clear, obvious and enforced. And all employees should be trained in the proper use of PPE which is properly fitted and uncompromised.
  • Power Tool Safety – Hand and power tool hazards are addressed in specific OSHA standards for general industry and construction, and as remediation often requires power tools, it is best if all employees are up to these standards.

Because full and complete bioremediation often entails multiple – if not all – of the above aspects, you can expect crime scene and accident cleaners to be proficient in a wide range of knowledge.

For instance, disposal. It is not enough that a biohazard remediator knows what contaminated materials to remove, the removal itself requires very strict and enumerated steps in order to avoid fines from either OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency or even the Department of Transportation.

ALL contaminated material – which is equal to medical waste and therefore follows the same restrictions as those followed by doctor’s offices and hospitals – must be disposed of in a regulated red bag that is marked by the universal biohazard symbol. These bags are then tracked by manifest throughout the journey before being safely incinerated or disposed of.

Other Factors and Concerns

Each and every state also presents their own guidelines and standards by which all biohazard cleanup corporations must operate – and these are constantly evolving. For instance, the state of Georgia will begin in 2021 to require crime scene cleaners to register with the Secretary of State’s office.

Beyond federal and state guidelines, biohazard cleanup companies must take it upon themselves to maintain the highest standards in purity and safety. And that includes ensuring the full health of their employees.

This means that, beyond OSHA training standards, companies can ensure that employees are in full understanding of vaccinations and health concerns – such as the Hepatitis B vaccine – and the possible implications of ignoring such steps.

This also includes the drafting and maintaining of an exposure protocol, so that employees know exactly what steps to take should they be exposed to any of the BBP or OPIM that may be prevalent on the job site.

Knowledge and Procedure Should be Combined with Understanding

Experienced and well-versed practitioners of biohazard cleanup will tell you that, as tough as it is strapping on a full biohazard suit at odd times of day and experiencing the odd gut-churning scene, it is the psychological side of dealing with victims and the loved ones of victims that is both most important and most taxing.

As a second responder – police, firemen and medical technicians are first responders – biohazard cleanup is often left to deal with the leftovers of crime, accident or neglect. And it is that aftermath that can be especially difficult, as property owners (often the relations of victims) are left to pick up the pieces in extraordinary circumstances.

That it is why it is just as important that biohazard cleanup companies train/equip their employees of how to deal with someone under tremendous stress. Yes, your primary job is to make the property safe and habitable. But to truly do the job, you must also provide customers with peace of mind and the ability to begin the psychological healing process. You can do that by offering understanding and a firm assurance that you are there to help and make things right physically.

Since you will be working with insurance companies in regards to claims, it is imperative to know how to fill out the proper paperwork and take that burden off of your clients.

Properly conducting bioremediation is anything but easy. However, it is a very necessary and beneficial service to the community. It requires both deliberate determination and study, but those that undertake this commitment will make a difference in the lives of citizens wherever they may be employed.

Since 2005, Biotrauma has worked hard to bring that understanding and level of service to clients throughout the southeast. Founder Ryan Sawyer made that commitment then and still lives by it today. Should you need biohazard cleanup help in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina or Tennessee, please contact Biotrauma today at 866-435-7704.