Bio-Recovery Issues: The Importance of Proper Training

During the Connections Convention and Trade Show last September in Las Vegas, I was invited to set up a mock crime scene in the flood house… and I received many comments about it. As an ABRA instructor, I tried to present some of the challenges and problems associated with this young industry known as bio-recovery. The service is not new - many individuals and companies have been doing this for years. In 1996 the American Bio-Recovery Association (ABRA) was formed to support and promote this industry. Just as in many associations, some will join and support it and others feel they can go at it alone. 
Today, those that feel they don’t need such an association are either misinformed or fail to see the true value of belonging to associations. In fact, many are so far behind best industry practices or industry standards that they are causing problems for the true professionals. These are the very ones that we see using the incorrect processes, procedures, equipment, products and personal protective equipment (PPE). The old saying has never been truer than it is today: “What we used to do, better not be done today.” And yet, we see the same old things being done day-in and day-out. These things aren’t safe and are irresponsible for anyone to do, especially for the so-called professionals.
Today, more so than ever before, we see an increase of people wanting to get into this field because of job loss or other issues. We also see an increase in the people claiming to be instructors. From what I have seen by many of these self-proclaimed instructors is that they are not certified technicians nor are they qualified to teach. They are teaching things that one day will not only get them into serious trouble, but will get the students attending their courses into trouble. I would venture to say that for most of them, they have taken someone’s course and adapted it as their own, all the while not fully understanding the why’s and what-for’s. 
While at Connections, I had several people approach me and ask the names of the products that I had mentioned. Some of the questions were basic knowledge that all instructors should at a minimum know, teach or use. Such questions just reinforced my belief on the lack of proper instruction, because they should have already known the answers. I have many friends in the industry that are very well respected in many of the disciplines of cleaning and restoration, however they are lacking a lot of basic and mandatory knowledge for this highly infectious field and should not be doing this work until they are properly trained.
Some examples are the use of white Tyvek style suits, N95 paper/fiber style respirators, face shields without the use of goggles and so forth. When technicians are seen using many or some of these items, it shows a lack of proper training or understanding of the health risk and safety for the individual technician or company. When we look further into the issue, we see that the instructor failed to understand his or her role in providing the best instructions and training for the students on requirements for their personal health and safety. 
This is one of the reasons that I argue strongly for better training and higher standards. If we are to be viewed as professionals, we need to act and prove it.
Many teach that since OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) only requires a N95 respirator that it is safe to use such. One of the excuses used is the half-face or full-face respirator is too hot. Bless your heart, if the kitchen is too hot, get out and find another job. If disposable respirators are not recommended for use while doing lead, mold, sewage or asbestos remediation then why on Earth would you think you could wear it while performing bio-recovery work? And how many times do we hear you will get used to the odor? From a deodorization standpoint, I don’t want to smell the odor - especially if I am the one trying to deodorize the scene. This is just one of the areas that some instructors fail in because they really don’t understand the process.
Another area some instructors are experimenting with is the use of animal blood and tissue or other potential infectious material (OPIM). Setting up the mock scene at Connections proves that the use of real blood and animal tissue isn’t needed to show students how to clean or provide a visual affect. Whether animal or human, all blood and tissue should be treated as a potential health hazard. OSHA does not prescribe to that terminology, but OSHA does not govern foreign laws or governments and, at present, it only deals with humans. I have spoken to many veterinarians, zoological professionals and other health care professionals who have voiced their concerns and said they could not believe people would subject themselves to such dangers. This confirms the reason why you shouldn’t use blood or OPIM to train technicians. Any and everything we need to teach and train can be done in a safe and effective manner. 
When law enforcement and other agencies set up mock scenes or training scenarios, they do not use real blood or need real wounded victims to do the training on. So for a bio-recovery or crime and death scene instructor (or training facility) to feel they need the real thing is merely for hype and the shock and awe of it. When blood and OPIM is used in training I question the effectiveness of the training and the students’ ability to learn. The training facility, instructor and employer are opening themselves up to risk and lawsuits.
In the next few years, the industry will have a set of working and living standards that all can be proud of. Just like the water damage, mold and carpet cleaning standards, it will only be as good as those that use and follow them. However, unlike those standards, by not following or using the coming Bio-Recovery S540 standards, you could be setting yourself up not only for public health risks but you could risk the lives of yourself and your loved ones.

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