Many people incorrectly believe police or fire personnel clean the accident scene after a factory or home accident.

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Accident Cleanup

In a larger facility, it may be well worth the investment to have custodial workers trained to handle accident cleanup operations.

While most would agree factories and warehouses in the United States are safer now than they were a decade or more ago, accidents can and do happen. The following is an unfortunate but perfect example:

A worker was hired through a temporary agency to work in a factory that processes and packages cheese. Only a few hours into her shift, the worker's arm got caught in one of the machines she used to do her job. While she has no recollection of exactly what happened or how, she was rushed to a local hospital, where her left hand and a section of her forearm had to be amputated.

The quick actions of nearby workers and the floor supervisor prevented what was a very serious accident from becoming far worse. Doctors believed that without their intervention, the worker would have lost both arms -—possibly even her life -— because she was bleeding so profusely.

Unfortunately, when accidents such as this occur, there is another problem factory owners and managers must contend with: properly and safely cleaning up the accident scene. Many people are under the false belief that after a factory or home accident in which someone is injured, police or fire department personnel follow up and clean the accident/crime scene. This is not the case. In virtually all situations in the United States, once the victim has been removed and officials have concluded their investigation, cleanup duties are turned over to facility owners/managers, who in turn typically call on the custodial crew. But without proper experience or training, passing the job on to the custodial crew can be another serious problem just waiting to happen.

What to Expect
Have you ever wondered what things might look like after a serious accident occurs in a warehouse or factory location? Jeff Darr, president of Crime Scene Services, Inc. in Charlotte, N.C., specializes in cleaning up after crime scenes but has performed such cleanup operations in all kinds of situations, from car and airplane crashes to accidents in homes and workplaces. According to Darr, these are some of the things to expect:

  • Blood and body fluids may have settled on all nearby surfaces, including equipment, chairs, shelves, floors, floor mats, light fixtures, walls, and the company's products being manufactured or handled.
  • Body parts/remains may be found at the accident scene or surrounding area.
  • Depending on the type of accident, fire extinguisher or chemical residue must be removed.

"All of this must be considered biohazardous waste," said Darr. "It must be properly and safely removed by workers who know what they are doing and how to do it safely."

He said federal regulations require that no employee or cleaning worker be exposed to these wastes without first going through the following:

  • Receiving bloodborne pathogens (BBP) training
  • Having a written BBP-exposure control plan (developed for the prevention and control of diseases caused by bloodborne pathogens, should an accident occur)
  • Being provided with personal protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, and proper footwear
  • In some cases, being offered a hepatitis B vaccine, exposure evaluation, and medical follow-up after cleanup operations
  • Receiving training on equipment for the removal, storage, and handling of biohazardous waste

"Additionally, cleanup workers should look into certification courses offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration," Darr said. "These courses cover, among other things, the safe handling of hazardous materials and the regulations that govern crime and accident scene cleanups."

Cleanup Operations
Once the area where the accident happened can be accessed, the first step in accident cleanup involves assessing the situation. For instance, if blood, body fluids, or residue is on surrounding surfaces, it must be determined what can be cleaned up and what is best properly discarded. This often happens in residential settings with furniture and mattresses that have been soiled. Along with this, smaller items affected by the accident must be removed and properly bagged for later cleaning or proper disposal.

After the evaluation has been completed, the actual cleaning may start. Workers must properly suit themselves in protective gear, then begin the task of wiping down walls, machinery, floors, ceilings, and other surfaces with a hospital-grade disinfectant. The disinfectant must be powerful enough and certified to kill HIV, certain forms of hepatitis, E. coli, and herpes, as well as mold, mildew, and fungi. This information will be posted on the disinfectant's label.

Unfortunately, because there is so much "touching" of surfaces in the cleaning process, even when gloves and protective gear are worn, the cleaning worker must take precautions and always assume the victim could have a virus, disease, or illness, making cross-contamination a serious concern. To avoid contact with surfaces and the risk of cross-contamination, some crime/accident scene cleanup experts such as Darr recommend using spray-and-vac (no-touch cleaning) systems. With these systems, the disinfectants are chemically injected onto the affected areas. Sufficient dwell time is required, which will typically again be posted on the product label. The machine is then used to pressure rinse the same areas. In most cases, the machine will generate enough pressure so that pathogens and soils are thoroughly removed from surfaces, although a deck brush can be used if necessary. The entire process eliminates the need to touch contaminated surfaces, helping to protect the health of the cleaning workers.

If using a spray-and-vac system, it is important to select a machine that has the capability to also vacuum up the moisture, soil, waste, and residue. This completely removes them from the accident area and allows for proper disposal. This step also helps leave the area relatively dry and ready for use in a short time.

Contingency Plans
While most facility managers will have some type of plan in place covering what to do should a worker be injured on the job, they may not have a contingency plan for handling the cleanup operations afterward. As we have discussed, there are a lot of things to consider. In many cases, contracting out these duties to a service that specializes in this type of cleanup operation might be the best option.

However, in a larger facility with many workers and where such accidents are a possibility, it may be well worth the investment to have custodial workers trained to handle accident cleanup operations. The type of equipment discussed earlier makes the process much easier and, more important, safer. In either case, it is a situation of which managers should be aware.

Accident Scene Definitions
Blood: human and some nonhuman primate blood, human and some nonhuman primate blood components, and products made from human and some nonhuman primate blood
Bloodborne pathogens: disease-causing microorganisms that are present in human and some nonhuman primate blood, including, but not limited to, hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and herpes B virus
Contamination: presence or reasonably anticipated presence of blood or other potentially infectious materials on an item or surface
Disinfect: use chemical agents to remove, inactivate, or destroy bloodborne pathogens on a surface or item to the point where they are no longer capable of transmitting infectious particles and the surface or item is rendered safe for handling, use, or disposal
Personal protective equipment: specialized clothing or equipment worn for protection against a hazard; does not include general work clothes (e.g., uniforms, pants, shirts, or blouses) not intended to function as protection against a hazard
Potentially infectious body fluids: semen, breast milk, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva in dental procedures, any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood, and all body fluids in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between body fluids

About the Author

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, author of two books on the professional cleaning industry, and today a writer for the professional cleaning, building, and safety industries. He may be reached at rkravitz@rcn.com.

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