While most of the residential carpet cleaning jobs a technician handles are fairly similar — three-bedroom house, three kids, a dog, a cat and carpet long overdue for cleaning — there inevitably is a job or two that stands out as most unusual. Such is the biohazard cleaning case for one Ohio carpet cleaning technician.
According to this tech, he was called in to handle an “emergency” carpet cleaning. When he got to the house, a gentleman opened the door and showed him the emergency: A family room with carpet covered in blood. And, it turned out, the man who opened the door was the one who had shot his wife, whose blood was now on the carpet.
The scene was a pretty grisly welcome to the world of biohazard cleaning. It typically involves removing potentially dangerous materials such as chemical spills, toxic irritants, tear gas, blood and blood-borne pathogens, or a decomposing animal.
Because biohazard cleaning can be lucrative and is not affected by seasons — as is carpet cleaning — many carpet cleaning companies consider adding this service to their roster. But before doing so, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Insight into biohazard cleaning
Biohazard cleaning is sometimes referred to as “bio-cleaning” or “bioremediation.” Whatever the cleaning is called, a biohazard can be defined as any organism or substance that poses a threat to human or animal health or to the environment. A biohazard cleaning professional is tasked with removing biohazardous materials and their related contaminants.
Some carpet cleaning technicians may perform biohazard cleaning as a secondary offering, but in most cases, especially when insurance adjusters are involved — as they often are — the insurance company will work only with a company that specializes in this type of cleaning. For the most part, insurance carriers want to make sure proper cleaning measures are taken that protect the health and safety of the policy holder. Plus, they want to minimize their own risks in the situation. Insurance adjusters know of the inherent health risks and challenges in bioremediation cleaning.
In addition, bioremediation cleaning can be costly. In some situations, it can be more costly than restoration work after a flood or fire. So an insurance company footing the bill wants to make sure the cleanup operation is performed correctly and professionally from start to finish.
Why the concern
“Biohazard situations can lead to hidden dangers that an average restoration technician might not even consider,” according to Tim Reifsteck, co-founder of a national company that specializes in bioremediation services. “Biohazard situations [can also] pose grave health risks to cleanup company [workers] because of the potential exposure to blood-borne pathogens.”
As an example, Reifsteck says when there is water damage to a property, carpet or floorboards may be removed if they are visibly damaged and unsalvageable. Once the area has dried out, new flooring or carpet can be installed. However, if blood, for example, has seeped into floors and subflooring, it may not be detected in the cleaning process. “If new floors are installed over [a] blood spill, the remaining bio-matter can spread disease, release odors and further damage the property.”
It also should be noted that in situations where blood has spilled over walls, carpet or floors, if the blood has come from people with a serious disease such as hepatitis (B or C) or HIV, those pathogens can survive for several hours or even days depending on temperature and environmental conditions. Coming in contact with these pathogens through touch or inhalation can pose a health risk if the technician is not careful.
Training and protective gear
For those technicians who want to venture into biohazard cleaning, requirements for the job include education and protective clothing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has created regulations and several training programs designed to protect workers who perform biohazard cleaning. All workers performing this type of work should be familiar with these regulations and trained accordingly.
The Environmental Protection Agency and many state environmental agencies also have regulations that biohazard cleaning services must abide by. Often these focus on the storage, transport and disposal of potentially dangerous biohazard waste. Becoming familiar with these guidelines and regulations is vital for this type of work.
When performing biohazard cleaning, wearing high-quality body protection is a must, and because this work can be physically challenging, the protective gear must also be comfortable. Among the items technicians should look for or will need are the following:
Biohazard suits: Look for a manufacturer that offers biohazard suits that address a number of “levels of protection.” The level of protection must meet or exceed the types of hazards that might be encountered.
Proper seams: The seams are important because if the suit is not effectively sealed, pathogens can come in contact with the body. There are four types of seam construction: sewn, bound, taped, and double taped. An astute distributor can help in selecting the one that will provide the best protection.
Eye gear and face shield. Technicians should select both protective eye gear and a face shield. The eye gear should be “indirectly vented” or “non-vented,” protecting the eyes from spills. The face shield should cover the entire face and be designed to protect the wearer from chemical splashes.
Gloves: Select a long-sleeve glove—one that extends up the wrist—that resists a wide range of acids and solvents. Also, look for gloves that are resistant to punctures, cuts, and abrasions.
One more requirement for the job
There is one more requirement for biohazard cleaning, and it is one that cannot be taught nor worn. It’s compassion. Although not all biohazard cleaning is the result of a crime, invariably these are challenging and stressful situations. The job of a bioremediation professional is not only to properly clean up the situation but also help those affected move on with their lives.
Vicky Adams is Category Manager for Safety, Gloves and Foodservice products for Impact Products, the dominant manufacturer of the supplies and accessories category of the cleaning and maintenance industry. She can be reached through her company website at www.impact-products.com.