Carpet Cleaning Business Management / Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning / Restoration

Breaking Down the Business of Bio-Recovery

November 3, 2011
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It's hard to argue that of all the different niches in the cleaning and restoration industry, bio-recovery (better know as crime scene cleanup) gets the lion's share of the spotlight.



It’s hard to argue that of all the different niches in the cleaning and restoration industry, bio-recovery (better known as crime scene cleanup) gets the lion’s share of the spotlight. From the money (“It’s a gold mine!”) to the movies (Sunshine Cleaning; The Cleaner, anyone?) and everything in between, it’s also a good bet that no specialization is more misunderstood.

To try and help clear up some of the unanswered questions, we asked Rich Ross, bio-recovery professional and president of the American Bio-Recovery Association, to break down the business and explain how it fits into the cleaning and restoration landscape.

ICS Cleaning Specialist The term “bio-recovery” covers a lot of ground. Briefly, what are we talking about? What’s the scope of work for a bio-recovery professional?
Rich Ross: The term “bio-recovery” is fairly new to the industry. In the past, many just called it a crime or death scene cleanup. All but a few people wanted nothing to do with it. It was just too gruesome to many. Well, that is until T.V. shows and movies started depicting the light and easy way to make a fast buck.

What they fail to show is the true picture of what a person would have to deal with. You see, you can’t smell any odor watching movies. You don’t get the feeling that something very bad happened or how people react when a loved one commits suicide or is murdered in a very violent manner. You don’t experience the thoughts or effect it has on you as a person.

A bio-recovery technician is not there to comfort the survivors nor are they detectives trying to piece together what happened or to see how much smarter they are than law enforcement. Many who get started try or think they understand more than they really do, just to find out they are not that clever.

A bio-recovery technician’s job is to clean, decontaminate and make the scene safe for anyone that could come in contact with the area or surfaces that have become contaminated. It is not their job to rebuild or repair the scene while charging bio-recovery rates. Many feel that they can just jump in and clean up blood, body fluids and other potentially infectious material.

Without proper training and understanding, they pose a great risk and potential danger for their own selves and those that come in contact with the contaminated surfaces. Many who are entering the service of bio-recovery cannot clean well, other than cleaning what is visible, if they even do that.

ICS:  The segment gets a lot of press, some good, some not so much. What’s the biggest misconception about the bio-recovery industry?
RR:  I watch training YouTube videos or see pictures of people trying to come off as a Bio-recovery expert especially when the news reporters do interviews or take pictures. I have to say many are not wearing proper (PPE) personal protective equipment and some, while wearing it, are not wearing it correctly. Many so-called experts have never gone through proper training. It’s really no different than carpet cleaners, janitors, mold, and water damage restoration professionals. You can spot a company or technician who has not or is not using proper equipment, chemicals, PPE or has proper training. You simply need training, and by instructors that understand and know what they are talking about.

ICS:  What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry today?
RR:  The biggest challenge facing our industry today is education and standards, which include several areas. What we did years ago cleaning up had better not be done today, as there are new tools, equipment and products to keep technicians safe and to protect the public. We need to get the best industry practices and standards that everyone providing the service must use.

Thankfully ABRA and the IICRC, along with other individuals are working on an industry standard, IICRC S540. It’s so new that the proper name has not been determined. Many have seen the need of such a standard and it should be in place within the next four years.

ICS:  Say someone is looking to enter the bio-recovery business. What’s the first thing you’d say to them?
RR: Many are looking into entering this field, especially because so many are out of work these days. I receive phone calls and emails every day as the president of ABRA, and one of the three ABRA instructors.  Many of the calls are just looking for work and they feel this is a get-rich industry. True, the money is good, but the stress and liabilities are high.

The first thing I ask a person is, “Why do you want to get into bio-recovery?”  The No. 1 answer is, “I need the money.” The No. 2 answer is, “I think I can handle it.” Down toward the bottom are a very few people that say, “Because I want to help someone.”  To me, personally, that should be the number one or two reason; the money will come, that is a given.

ICS: What are the three questions you’re most commonly asked about the industry?
RR: When talking with people, three of the most-asked questions I get are, “What made you get into this work?” “Does it ever affect or bother you to do this work?” and “After going through a course, is that all I need to do to get started?”

The answer to the first question has several answers, because I have been through this with many of my own family members both from my side of the family and of my wife’s side.  Where family members were left to do the cleanup themselves; this is not only very hard to deal with but when left up to untrained people a health issue now has become involved.

The second answer is, yes, it affects me at different levels and on different scenes. Anyone that tells you it does not or never affects them is lying. It will affect you; the trouble is you never know when or where it will happen. I tell my students and those that inquire; it will come back and bite you at some time especially if you are not prepared.

The last answer is for anyone who thinks they can just jump into it without proper training. I see many professional carpet cleaners and other restoration professionals forced into doing this work just because they want to help their clients when no one else is there to help. Many of these professionals have the equipment and supplies and know how to clean to a degree. Some training for them would fit right in and they could properly do the clean up.

Where a large problem comes into play is when those who couldn’t clean anything in the first place want to jump in and start a business in bio-recovery. This is not the field where one should practice or experiment. We are talking about health and safety issues that they just have no clue or understanding of. Our contamination levels are things you can’t see with the naked eye such as bacteria, spores, and viruses. Not cleaning properly or disinfecting the contents and surfaces has a potential life-threatening consequence for the technician and innocent people.

ICS: In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of being a bio-recovery professional?
RR: In my opinion, the most important aspect of being a bio-recovery technician is detail. Everything boils down to the details. You must and foremost have to know your surroundings at all times. You could cause injuries not only to yourself but also to others. A detail most often overlooked is that of proper training and training that includes safe practices at all time. The bio-recovery technician must be in good health and know when their body is safe to perform the services without potential harm to themselves.

ICS:  Where do you see the business 5 years from now? Ten years?
RR: Within the next five years we will see many entering this field then leaving as quickly as they came in. It’s the excitement for many. But when they learn there is more to it than just cleaning we will see a leveling off. As states and other government agencies become involved we will see requirements that many will not want to subject themselves with. More so when the IICRC S540 Standards are published, people and companies will be held accountable for their actions.

Really it’s not that different than that of the asbestos and mold industry; we’ve seen huge numbers of people getting into it, then came the regulations and permits and people lost interest; so will it be with the bio-recovery business. And within the next five to ten years we will see bio-recovery technicians or companies entering a much higher level of training and disinfection services than now. There will be new methods and products along with the equipment to deliver the needed decontamination process.

Today the industry does things better, faster, and safer than in the past. The reason is new superbugs or bacteria or viruses and what not has entered the scene; what tomorrow will bring is anyone’s guess but to be sure, keeping up with the times is most critical for the bio-recovery technicians and companies providing these services.

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