The bio technician is the front line person who interacts with the client and their families when the unthinkable occurs. This can be murder, suicide, natural death, a nasty injury and more.
It’s important for the company to choose wisely when hiring the person who fulfills this role. I’ve been asked many times if I prefer to hire men or women for this position, and my reply is that it doesn’t matter as long as you are hiring to “fulfill” the position and not just “fill” it.
Hiring the right tech
More important than gender, is that you ask yourself, “Can the prospective hire be the person I need, and can they do the work that’s required?”
Most prospects who apply specifically for these positions believe you need some level of medical background or training, and although that’s good to have, it’s not the main skillset I look for when hiring.
First, I look at the person: is this someone who is honest, trustworthy, conscientious and loyal? Next I get a feel for the person: can I judge how empathetic they would be toward the clients?
Once these questions are out of the way and answered to my satisfaction, I look for skillsets. Does this person have any working knowledge of construction, both residential and commercial? Do they know how to properly operate a skill saw, sawzall and most other tools of the construction trade?
I also have extensive discussions concerning the schedule of the work. Can they work several days in a row, being called out of town at all hours of the day? If your company is a standalone forensic restoration company — meaning you do no other type of work — they can sit and wait for several days, maybe up to a week or more, waiting for a call. The work is intensive and mentally draining at times, as well as physically demanding.
So you can see that the bio technician is a very unique person and not just anyone can fulfill the need.
When sending the bio technician to the job site, he should be armed with all the information the office can gather about the job.
Was this a suicide? If so, what was used? A death by shotgun or large caliber rifle results in more contamination than a 9 mm or a .38-caliber pistol. Is this an unattended death? If so, how long was it before the death scene was discovered? A one- or two-month unattended leaves far more damage than a one- or two-week unattended.
Letting the technician know what they are walking into before they leave the shop allows them to build on and use their bracing skills, which can cut down on the stress of the work. Training should prepare the technician on how to deal with death scene situations.
Technicians, as they arrive, should eliminate all chatter between team members. Radios and other audio equipment should be shut off and the technicians should be preparing their “game face.” There should be no laughing or jokes anywhere near the job site. Imagine: The technicians seen laughing or joking as they approach the job site… if seen or heard by neighbors, this will get back to the victims.
Entering the jobsite
Only one of the technicians should be designated to have any conversations of substance with the client. This doesn’t mean the other technicians have to appear deaf and mute, but any official conversations should only be through the appointed technician or, if the company is large enough, the project manager.
Conversations with client families can be varied and/ or erratic. Quite a few times you’ll find family members wanting to talk about the decedent or injured and what’s surrounding the incident. I always let them talk because it’s cathartic to them, and it builds goodwill toward the company, but I’ve always found a way to express my condolences and keep the conversations short.
If you cut them off too soon you’ll appear to be uncaring; if you allow them to talk too much it will hinder the work flow. Remember: The job of the technician is to get in, do the job and get out so the family can get on with their grieving and getting their lives put back together.
Once the bio technicians have arrived and the designated speaker has finished his initial conversation with the client, he must explain that an initial investigation of the site will need to be accomplished (a larger company will use an estimator).
The technician will inform the client that they will be opening and shutting doors and drawers that could have been opened during the incident, as they are in the incident site being investigated, and job site photos will be taken during this time.
The technician should ask the client if there is anything they know of within the site that needs to be retrieved at this time.
Investigating the area
Donning a minimum of gloves and booties (or more if appropriate), the technician will look for contamination in all areas of the room, even if this incident involved a low caliber pistol. If this incident was caused by a larger caliber, and the door was open to the room at the time of the blast, then the technician will investigate adjacent halls and rooms, as well.
When the police are at the scene performing their investigation, and before the technicians arrive, things get moved, even thrown around, so blankets, clothing and the like will need to be cautiously lifted to check for contamination on, in and around them.
Hazards other than bio, such as broken glass, needles, etc., should also be identified.
Anything of value, such as jewelry, cash, credit cards, etc. that are discovered during this initial investigation need to be retrieved, noted, photographed and, if at all possible, returned to the client at this time.
A chain of custody report will be written for the client to sign, documenting that these items have been discovered, retrieved and given to the client. If any of these items have been contaminated, you will still note and photograph these items and alert the client that these items will be a priority in recovery and returned as soon as possible.
If the clients are out of town at the time of discovery, valuables should not be left behind unattended. They should be taken to a client-designated person, police station or funeral home, and the chain of custody report should be signed by the recipient.
This should protect the company and its employees against theft accusations. These actions will also speak volumes of goodwill to your client as to your company’s professionalism and trustworthiness.
The work of the bio technician is meticulous.
They look for every small drop of blood and tissue within the control site. It is their job to restore any area of work into pre-event conditions and sanitize these areas. The work, for the most part, is pretty straightforward, but due to the regulations and best practices developed over the last 20 years, the technician has to work from the perspective of “reasonable anticipation” of a life-threatening disease being ever present.
Since the technician is usually working in areas where the true nature of contaminate is unknown they work through a set of work practices called “Universal Precautions.” Basically, it’s working from the premise and taking the same precautions as you would if the contaminate were known to be infectious with HIV, hepatitis or some other life-threatening disease.
Through our training, we teach even the smallest intrusion that compromises a worker’s personal protective equipment (PPE) has a potential to do physical harm to the technician.
I always ask in class how many people have a handled carpet tack strip. Of course, everyone raises their hands. I then ask how many have felt the poke or stick of a tack even with gloves on. Everyone confirms they have been poked, punctured or scratched by the tack strip.
When asked how many reported to the supervisor this kind of incident, most reply they haven’t because everyone gets hurt by tack strips — it’s just part of the job.
These types of incidents have been reported over the years as developing into life-threatening diseases, and in many states, if you do not report an injury in a timely manner to your employer, you can be denied worker’s compensation (WC) insurance coverage.
So I offer a solution that every company maintain a “Bumps and Bruises Log” for every project and instruct every employee to report any bumps, bruise or scratch they may receive on the job site.
These are not the types of injuries you need to report to your WC carrier or the state, but this way, if something develops, it has been reported and the employer has a record for worker’s comp claims and no such denial can be claimed.
Remember, the disease process (such as HIV and hepatitis) can be within the body for up to seven years before manifesting any symptom.
Also, every technician who handles a contaminate (and this also includes those who handle mold and sewage), along with the bio technician, are considered “high-risk individuals” for pathogens.
Several diseases, such as Aspergillosis in mold remediation and Histoplasmosis in pigeon dung cleanup, mimic bronchitis; however, the diagnosis and treatment are very different.
Your healthcare provider should know that you are a high-risk worker; otherwise, they won’t have any indicator to look for beyond the obvious. This can lead to your death or disablement before they discover they have diagnosed you incorrectly.
The technician and their respective companies pay a lot of attention to the obvious, while letting go of the small things that do damage years down the road. Many things a technician deals with are cumulative, meaning a little damage takes place each round and you won’t really notice the effect for years.
Thinking that a respirator or a dust mask isn’t necessary when cutting uncontaminated sheet rock or wood can lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Thinking it’s too much hassle to go back out to the truck to retrieve earplugs because you’re just going to be using that saw for a few minutes still leads to hearing loss.
I always tell my students there’s an old adage in the flying world: “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.”
If you choose to ignore the best work practices to keep yourself and your workforce safe from the small things, and you or they contract a disease because of it, you or they won’t die a pretty death, and even the loved ones around you will get annoyed and aggravated every time you say, “I didn’t hear you, what?”
Don M. McNulty is a leading instructor and has been teaching and certifying technicians since 2002. You can find more information and McNulty’s teaching schedule through his website www.BioTechnicianCourse.com