You have probably heard or read about trauma scene work, or perhaps you or your company may now do this type of work. 

As with many other work activities, an important aspect of success is knowing what you are doing. The following true story helps explain what I am talking about.

I first entered the cleaning business back in the early 1990s. My wife and I purchased an existing cleaning company, and we were impressed with the quality of work the technicians were doing, which was one of our reasons for buying the business. We primarily focused the business on cleaning apartments and hotels.iStock/Thinkstock

One of the accounts we had was a large apartment complex where we provided basic carpet cleaning services. At this time, one of the tenants in the complex had committed suicide.

The police had completed the investigation work, the coroner had taken the body, and the “mess” remained. The apartment complex asked if we could clean up the affected areas. I advised that I would get back to them and went to my two best cleaners, asking if they thought they could do this type of work. Both of them immediately said “yes,” and so I advised the apartment complex that we would be there the next morning.

The problems begin

In the morning, our two best cleaners loaded up the vehicle and drove to the complex. I estimated, without having seen the trauma site, about three hours of labor for two technicians, a total of about six man-hours of work. I expected to hear back from the team by about noon, but no call came.

Back then we did not have cell phones. Many of you reading this may have difficulty comprehending a time when cell phones and the Internet did not exist. We did have pagers, however, so about 2 p.m. I paged them; they had to find access to a telephone and call into the shop.

I asked how it was going, and they advised the cleanup was not going well. I asked why. The lead technician said they simply could not get the blood cleaned up. So I hopped in a van and drove over to discover the guys had described the situation appropriately — we were actually making a mess out of the affected areas.

We talked together about what procedures they had been doing and also what processes we might try next to be effective in cleaning the site. After considering where we were and our possible remedies, we made the decision that the best we could do was demo all the affected area.

I went to the complex manager’s office to explain the status of the work and what our results had been, as well as give our recommendations to resolve the situation. The manager was not pleased with our update and negotiated with us to deny payment for any of the cleaning work performed. He did agree to pay for and have my company complete the demolition, which we did the next day.

Careful expansion

This account of the apartment complex is a true story of my introduction to trauma scene cleanup. This first attempt to expand our existing business into a new market segment was not successful.

I thought cleaning was cleaning, and to some extent it is, but to some extent it is not. The reality of my situation at that time was “I did not know — what I did not know.” In other words, I thought we could clean up a trauma scene because we were good at cleaning up dirt.

I was wrong!

The story ends well, for as time moved forward we learned how to clean up trauma scenes. Back in the 1990s, cleaners could not receive education and training, attend classes or acquire certifications that dealt with trauma scene cleanup and decontamination. At least, I could not find any.

Eventually, we developed a very successful team of trauma scene cleaners who at one time were providing trauma scene cleanup services across five different states.

So ask yourself, do you know what you are doing if performing trauma cleaning services?

Two decades ago when we started performing trauma scene cleanup:

  • Personal protective equpitment (PPE) meant wearing gloves and safety glasses. Protective suits and respirators were not considered.
  • Disposal of contaminated items (carpet, pad, etc.) meant throwing regular garbage bags of contaminated material into the nearest dumpster.
  • Immunizations were not considered.
  • Equipment decontamination meant a thorough flushing of equipment with water, detergent and a maybe a biocide.

Many of our technicians were hunters who had worked around animal blood, for example, when field dressing a deer. The idea of humans becoming infected through exposure to blood was simply not in our thought process.

The idea that we were handling materials at a trauma scene cleanup that could be, and probably were, contaminated with potentially infectious pathogenic blood or bodily fluids never occurred to us.

We did not know what we did not know.

The learning process

Looking back on those experiences, I am amazed — thankfully — that none of our technicians became infected or seriously ill. As we completed several trauma scene cleanups, we became educated the hard way. We learned:

  • The types of contaminated items we were cleaning up and the potential hazards.
  • The appropriate use of PPE.
  • Which types of materials we likely could clean and decontaminate, and which types we could not.
  • When cleaning and decontamination was possible:
    • What equipment was required.
    • The cleaning solutions effective on specific types of materials.
    • The cleaning processes effective for each material or object.
  • The proper procedures for disposing of contaminated objects (which varies from state to state).

If you are considering entering the trauma scene cleanup field, or you are already involved, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you and your workers properly trained to do this type of work?
  • Are you familiar with the guidelines and regulations from the EPA, OSHA, CDC and the state where you are working?
  • Have you ever heard of the bloodborne pathogens regulation, universal precautions, exposure control plans, etc.?
  • Do you know your state’s requirements for disposal of regulated waste?
  • Do you know the roles that EPA and Department of Transportation have in the transportation and disposal of waste?

If you cannot answer yes to all of these questions, I would suggest you consider additional training for yourself and/or your team. Training is now available, so you do not need to learn the hard way, the way I had to.

So the question you need to answer before doing trauma scene cleanup and decontamination work is: Do you really know what you are doing??

Richard Driscoll has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Clarkson College of Technology, an MBA from the University of Dayton and is currently working on his doctorate. He is a professor at Webster University, where he provides graduate and under-graduate level lectures.He is an IICRC Certified Master Restorer, Master Textile Cleaner and an approved instructor. Driscoll has been consulted by state governments on legislation related to the cleaning and restoration industry. He also is the author and instructor for Restoration Sciences Academy's: MR-110 and MR -210 microbial remediation classes; and MR-211 trauma scene clean up class. He can be reached at