ICS Magazine

Ten Big Concerns in the Bio-Recovery Industry

November 25, 2008


If you are in, or are contemplating entering, the bio-recovery industry, it’s important to remember this goal: the complete clean up of blood, tissue and other potentially infectious materials. Problem is, many people think that’s the only goal, and so all that is needed is a strong stomach and a mop. In fact, there are companies out there cleaning up scenes with that approach in mind.

What we as technicians have to remember, however, is that in order to accomplish our task, there are a number of concerns we must address in order to do the job safely, effectively, and in compliance with the law. Ignoring any of these 10 concerns can cause employees to get sick (potentially with a lifetime of medical bills you will have to pay); lead to lawsuits from employees as well as customers; result in a bad reputation for poor performance; raise the ire of law enforcement agencies, and even lead to government fines.

Pathogenic Microbes

These harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi can be present in spilled blood and body fluids as well as in the air. Splashes of blood or body fluids and inhalation of aerosolized blood or fungal spores from the gastrointestinal tract can cause illness. Some viruses, like Hepatitis, can even cause death.

Most people are under the impression that these pathogens die when blood dries, but this is not the case. In fact, scientists have found live Hepatitis virus in blood that has been dried for over a month, and they believe it can actually live substantially longer. Protection against these invisible germs is paramount, and requires suits, gloves, face shields and respirators, regardless of how old the blood is. Not just any glove or suit will do, either. To assure that maximum protection is attained, seek out PPE that is specifically rated by the manufacturer or a testing organization like ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) for the job you are performing.  

Psychological Trauma

Just because someone has gutted a deer, worked in a nursing home or cleaned up after a nosebleed doesn’t mean they are psychologically prepared to clean a trauma scene. These scenes can be horrific: pieces of scalp hanging from the ceiling fan; brain matter splattered on the oil painting of the smiling family; bloody handprints sliding down the wall of a stabbing victim’s apartment; the crying and wailing of the family in the next room as you wipe away the remnants of their loved-one’s last moments.

Turnover in this business is usually because of nightmares, inability to sleep, and depression. Staying mentally healthy is an important part of protecting yourself on the job.

Disinfectant Efficacy

Although there are more than 100 antimicrobial products that claim to kill germs, it is imperative to select the right one for the target pathogens you may encounter. Among the those rated to do the job, their true efficacy varies considerably and is subject to surface conditions, temperature, organic load, and even the material the contaminant is on. Disinfectant efficacy is also heavily influenced by the presence of biofilm. Biofilm is produced when bacteria colonize and collectively produce a coating that envelops the entire colony. This coating provides a protective layer under which the bacteria can thrive unaffected by many disinfectants.

Overlooked Contamination

You just spent 50 hours cleaning up a bedroom where a father took his own life with a 12-guage shotgun. There was blood, tissue, brain matter and skull fragments covering nearly every square foot of the room and its contents. You were extremely cordial and sympathetic to the family. You used the right equipment and disinfectants. The room now looks great and the family is pleased.

But if you have overlooked just one drop of blood, one piece of tissue or small skull fragment (perhaps a tooth behind the dresser), prepare to get a very angry phone call. You may as well not have done anything at all because, although you worked until you nearly dropped, that one overlooked piece of carnage has re-traumatized the family, and they are thinking of calling a lawyer.

Interaction With the Distressed Family

Like funeral directors, we often have to interact with the immediate family of the deceased just a few hours after the event. These husbands, wives, parents and children are grieving and trying to cope with the emotional upheaval of an unexpected traumatic loss.

Knowing what to say as well as what not to say is critical in establishing a rapport and conveying your sympathy, yet still obtaining the information necessary to do your job. Saying the wrong thing can at the very least get you off on the wrong foot, and possibly get you kicked off the property. Sensitivity and a caring attitude are essential in this business.

Recognizing Evidence

From time to time, technicians will discover evidence at a crime scene. Since we spend a great deal of time scouring the scene from top to bottom, moving furniture, opening drawers and so on, we come across things that may be important to investigators.

The key is recognizing what might be related to the case. Obviously, guns, bloody knives and bullets should be reported, but it is with the more subtle things that you have to ask yourself, “Could this be important?” A roll of duct tape on the scene of a stabbing may have no significance, but what if you found one at the scene of an abduction? Knowing what the crime was can help you “tune-in” on items that may be crucial to an investigation.

Unreleased Scenes

You get a phone call from an apartment complex manager who wants you to clean up a shooting scene in apartment 2-C. You rush over and the manager signs your contract. Hours later you pack up your truck, confident that you have cleaned and disinfected every square inch of the apartment. The next day you get a call from an irate police investigator who says the scene had not been released yet, and you have destroyed his crime scene. He is threatening to charge you with obstruction of justice! Make absolutely sure that crime scenes have been reported, investigated and released before doing the job.

Legal Issues

As employers, we must adhere to the many OSHA regulations that apply to our trade. The most obvious is 29CFR1910.1030 the Bloodborne Pathogen Regulation, but there are many, many more, including the Respiratory Protection Regulations; Lockout-Tagout; Confined Space; Ladders; General Safety; and Personal Protective Equipment.

These regulations were designed to protect our employees and violations can result in stiff penalties, lawsuits and damage to our credibility.  In addition, we must employ contracts that provide protection to the property owner as well as the company and technicians. We must know who can sign our contracts, and we must have the appropriate insurance to protect us if anything goes wrong.

Migration of Liquids

Blood travels like water, but many people, including some technicians, tend to clean up only what they see (“If the red is gone, I’ve done my job.”). Unfortunately, blood runs under vinyl tile, under baseboards, down the seams of hardwood flooring, through OSB, and wicks up into drywall and down into concrete. Wiping blood off a surface is only the beginning of the remediation process.

Most jobs are more complicated than they initially seem because most of the contamination is hidden. Just a few ounces of blood can penetrate a carpet, go through the pad onto the underlayment, find a seam and seep down the seam into the plywood subfloor. More than a few ounces can travel from an attic to a basement if the conditions are right. Knowing what to look for is the key to combating liquid migration.

Decomposition and Odors

Understanding the nature of human body decomposition and the liquids and odors produced is key to our business. Putricine and cadaverine are composed of a variety of chemicals, fats, bacteria and minerals that pose challenges for the bio-recovery technician. Understanding what chemicals to use, what home contents can be saved, and what the true hazards of the contamination are goes a long way in restoring the property quickly and economically. 

As with any industry, there are always critical concerns that must be addressed in order to provide the best service possible. For the bio-recovery technician, failing to address any of these concerns can result in a very poor outcome, both for the family and your business. Proper training is of paramount importance, and certification from a nationally recognized organization will help assure that every scene is handled properly.