When the police, medical examiners and investigators leave the scene of a crime or death, professional cleaning and restoration companies often step in to take care of the labor-intensive aftermath cleanup.
In the event of a violent crime or death, there is usually blood and other bodily fluids that require special handling for disposal. Federal regulations deem all bodily fluids to be biohazards and potential sources of infection, which is why crime and trauma scene decontamination is most often performed by professionals who possess the necessary training and permits to transport and dispose of biohazardous waste (e.g., blood, bodily fluids, tissue, etc.).
Professional crime scene cleanup crews do more than clean up the aftermath of violent death. They often provide services for cleaning out hoarding situations, dead animal/carrion removal (such as an animal that died inside a wall cavity), or methamphetamine lab cleanup. In the case of meth labs, there may be hazardous chemicals or chemical residue present, which is why it is imperative that a professional crime scene cleanup crew perform the work.
Incidents of vandalism may require special cleaning precautions as well. From removing tear gas to cleaning fire extinguisher residue, the professionals who handle this sort of work are not your everyday cleaners.
Crime scene cleanup is a term applied to a forensic cleanup of blood, bodily fluids, and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). It is also referred to as biohazard remediation, and forensic cleanup, because crime scenes are only a portion of the situations in which biohazard cleaning is needed. Incidents which may require this type of cleanup include accidents, suicide (or attempted suicide), homicides, and decomposition after unattended death, as well as mass trauma, industrial accidents, infectious disease contamination, animal biohazard contamination (e.g. feces or blood) or regulated waste transport, treatment, and disposal.
Types of cleanups
Crime scene cleanup includes blood spills following an assault, homicide or suicide. There are many different sub-segments, named primarily after additional collateral, contingency, or preconditions, regarding the presence of non-blood borne organics, toxic irritants (e.g., tear gas) or disease vectors. However, it is the legality of charging a fee for mitigating potentially harmful biohazard situations that differentiates a registered crime or trauma practitioner from any general restoration, carpet cleaning, janitorial or housekeeping service.
With concerns about Ebola contamination in the United States, crime scene cleanup companies have been contracted by the government to clean more than just crime scenes.
While the field of crime scene cleanup is not specifically regulated as a class, most if not all of the activities performed by biohazard cleanup teams in the United States are regulated or fall under best practice guidelines from governing and advisory bodies such as OSHA, NIOSH, DOT, and EPA. Those who hire a crime scene cleanup company should make sure that they are properly trained in applicable federal and state regulations and can provide documentation of proper biohazardous waste disposal from licensed medical waste transportation and disposal companies. If in California or Florida the client should confirm that the company is registered with the state Department of Health. A few states such as California, New York, and Florida are the only states that explicitly require registration or licensing for crime scene cleanup. Other states may require biohazardous waste transport permits from the DOT.
In the US, OSHA requires that exposure to blood-borne pathogens be limited as much as possible due to the assumption that the blood and biological material is infectious. Most actions are taken to limit exposure fall under cross-contamination protocols, which provide that certain actions be taken to avoid further spreading the contamination throughout otherwise clean areas. CTS De-con companies should have in place, an exposure control plan before beginning work on any trauma scene. Under employee safety and cross-contamination protocols, the following OSHA regulations may pertain to bioremediation.
- OSHA29 CFR 1910.1030(g)(2)(ii)- Initial Assessment of Work: Must assess work site for potential hazards to employee safety. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1200, et seq.- Hazard Communication Protocol: Required to establish what chemicals are used and that they are properly labeled.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(i);29 CFR 1910.1030(e)(2)(iii); 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1); and 29, CFR 1926.1053 – Work Practice & Engineering Controls and Safety: Having done the initial assessment, must determine damage, potential hazards, equipment needs, egresses, work routes, possible complicating factors, ladder/scaffolding safety protocols, availability for hand-washing/sanitization wipes.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1) – Method of Compliance: Ensure employees are following all OSHA-mandated engineering and work practice controls through proper supervision, written documentation, and photographs.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(2) – Exposure Determination: Determine employee safety concerns due to exposure to biological materials.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1030(g)(1) – Hazard Signs and Labels: Hazardous areas must be demarcated; use of biohazard tape and establishment of zones separates and identifies hazardous areas.
In the UK, biohazards are regulated in part by HSE. Canada has published Canadian Biosafety Standards and Guidelines.
The crime scene cleaners’ work begins when the coroner‘s office or other officials, government body releases the “scene” to the owner or other responsible parties. Only when the investigation has completely terminated on the contaminated scene may the cleaning companies begin their task.
Standard operating procedures for the crime scene cleanup field often include military-like methods for the decontamination of internal and external environments. Universal precautions recognized worldwide are the cautionary rule-of-thumb for this field of professional cleaning. For example, the personnel involved in the cleanup are expected to wear shoe covers, liquid impermeable coveralls, and protective eyewear. Wearing protective gloves and the use of specifically rated cleaning agents are also mandatory policies to ensure that infectious agents such as hepatitis and HIV are killed. There are organizations who stress the avoidance of cleaning areas that officers cannot properly see to avoid accidental wounds such as needle puncture.
Cleaning methods for removing and sanitizing biohazards vary from practitioner to practitioner. Some organizations are working to create a “Standard of Clean” such as ISSA’s K12 Standard, which includes the use of quantifiable testing methods such as ATP testing.
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