Everyday people are aware of the risks first responders take to keep community members safe. But following a crime or tragic event, highly trained individuals are tasked with conducting a comprehensive cleanup that puts them in harm’s way.
Forensic restoration specialists work long hours to ensure pathogens and dangerous elements do not spread and infect others or themselves. These professionals assume great personal risk, and they need specialized protective clothing to make safe forensic restoration possible.
What is Forensic Restoration?
Forensic restoration professionals engage in a comprehensive remediation of structures and spaces that have been contaminated. Forensic restoration teams are often called in by law enforcement following a homicide or violent attack to deal with blood and bodily fluids. Using cleansing products and sanitary containment equipment, a forensic restoration team makes a space safe and habitable after an incident.
It’s important to note this industry is not limited to post-crime events. A forensic restoration team can be hired by private parties to implement commercial and residential cleanup when needed.
Common Hazards Associated with Forensic Restoration
Crime scenes require specialized technicians to implement comprehensive cleaning and remediation. These may include working in enclosed spaces, contaminated buildings, outdoor areas, as well as residential homes and commercial spaces.
Below are examples of events that prompt law enforcement officials to call in forensic restoration services.
- Crime Scenes Involving Biohazards like Bodily Fluids or Bloodborne Pathogens
- Meth and Other Drug Laboratories
- Unattended Deaths
- Spaces with Decomposing Animals
- Spaces with Fecal Matter (Human Waste, Animal Waste) or Decaying Matter
- Former Residences of Hoarders
- Areas with Non-Enveloped Viruses (Polio, Rhinovirus, Norovirus, etc.)
Specialized forensic restoration crews are also typically involved in the cleanup following riots. The tear gas used by police officers poses a chemical hazard to community members long after order has been restored.
Professionals are tasked with wearing protective clothing for forensic restoration and appropriate crime scene PPE while undertaking a cleanup and/or remediation process that may take days. The goal is to restore a structure or open-air space to the pre-event conditions and protect community members from exposure to dangerous chemicals, drugs, or bodily fluids. By using crime scene PPE, such as a bloodborne pathogen suit, cleaners prevent the spread of disease.
What is OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard?
Bloodborne pathogens rank among the most dangerous elements forensic restoration teams face. These infectious microorganisms persist in human blood and bodily fluids. The prevalent bloodborne pathogens cleanup technicians encounter include hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Along with puncture wounds, any contact bloodborne pathogens can result in the specialist becoming infected. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates compliance with regulations outlined in 29 CFR 1910.1030 to ensure cleanup crews are not compromised. The OSHA regulations also require crime scene PPE and the use of a bloodborne pathogen suit to contain and destroy public health dangers.
Under OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen standard, all employers are tasked with taking proactive measures to protect workers from coming into direct contact with “potentially infectious materials.” Along with blood, all other bodily fluids fall under the OSHA guidance.
Investigators, peripheral workers, and cleanup crews are also advised to take standard precautions such as protective clothing for forensic restoration and a bloodborne pathogen suit when any uncertainty exists about the type or origin of a liquid.
Companies that engage in forensic restoration are also required to develop written exposure control guidelines and provide a copy to all employees. To meet OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard 29 CFR 1910.1030, these safety measures generally involve the following.
- Identify all jobs classifications that may put workers at risk of occasional exposure.
- List all tasks and procedures that may put workers at risk of exposure.
- Outline the methods used for OSHA compliance regarding human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV).
- Provide detailed procedures for post-exposure health measures and evaluations.
- Communicate all hazards to employees and keep diligent records.
- Provide ongoing education and training.
- Identify and implement appropriate engineering controls.
- Identify and articulate proper waste disposal procedures.
- Ensure hepatitis B vaccinations remain available to forensic restoration workers.
- Provide employees with personal protective equipment
Along with stringent OSHA regulations, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also issues hazard mitigation controls. The National Institute’s directives also indicate protective clothing for forensic restoration and crime scene PPE are necessary for employee health and safety.
What PPE Should be Used in Forensic Restoration?
It’s essential for employers to provide ongoing oversight of their crime scene PPE requirements and remediation plans. New hires may be inclined to forgo the use of protective clothing for forensic restoration because they do not perceive a clear and present danger.
Bloodborne pathogens and other hazards often go undetected. That’s precisely why disposable protective clothing, such as a bloodborne pathogen suit, must be always mandated by employers. Below are examples of necessary, certified-safe crime scene PPE based on OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.1030 guidance.
- Gloves: Disposable, single-use gloves are always required for forensic restoration workers. OSHA mandates that these disposable crime scene PPE accessories be replaced as soon as possible after they are contaminated. Disposable gloves cannot be worn once their protective barriers appear compromised in any fashion. Often, workers wear two layers of gloves for added protection from punctures or corrosion from harsh drugs or chemicals.
- Respiratory, Face, and Eye Protection: OSHA tasks employers with providing a complete inventory of crime scene PPE to prevent inhalation and splatters. Breathable masks remain an industry-standard safety measure because hazardous elements can become airborne.
Depending on the type of hazard, a properly fitted respirator may be required. Vapors that enter the nose, mouth, and lungs can cause serious health issues. Health and safety regulations also require employers to provide eye protection such as goggles or face shields to defend against inadvertent splatters.
- Impermeable Disposable Protective Clothing: Every possible inch of a worker’s body must be insulated from contact with bloodborne pathogens and other hazardous materials. Best practices include head-to-toe disposable clothing such as coveralls with an attached hood and boots. These products must meet splash penetration resistance standards and blood penetration standards—ASTM 1670 (blood) and ASTM 1671 (bloodborne pathogens).
Disposable protective clothing is critical for these situations to prevent the spread of pathogens, harsh drugs, or chemicals beyond the clean-up area. Disposable PPE helps prevent harmful substances from spreading to the home, a personal vehicle, the office building after a cleanup, laundering services, laundering personnel, PPE inspection personnel, and more.
- Accessories: Shoe coverings, boot covers, protective hoods, and other accessories offer enhanced protection needed to prevent skin contact and pathogen transmission.
Health and safety guidelines require employers to update their policies and procedures to conform with evolving cleanup environments and available protective clothing for forensic restoration. OSHA anticipates company leaders will evaluate their policies annually and make their findings and changes known to staff and frontline team members.
Forensic Restoration Safety Measures
Federal safety regulations account for different types of contamination and unanticipated environments by providing employers with flexibility. The annual update of a company’s forensic restoration safety policy allows decision-makers and stakeholders to onboard relevant practices that improve safety in niche landscapes. Commonly used strategies typically include the following:
- Buddy System: Having multiple cleanup technicians work together improves health and safety. Co-workers can monitor others for potential heat stress and check each other’s protective clothing for tears or compromised areas.
- Disinfectants: Commercial disinfectants are necessary for cleansing an impacted space. They can also be used to sanitize crime scene PPE before technicians start removing it or changing into regular clothing.
- Waste Disposal: Protective clothing for forensic restoration must also be worn during the packaging and transportation of hazardous and potentially infectious materials. These protocols are outlined in OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030). All hazardous waste should be disposed of according to the applicable safety regulation(s).
- Decontamination: Preventing the spread of infectious pathogens requires controls to segregate tasks and exposure. Workers require a clear zone for donning street clothes, a decontamination zone, and a separate area to put on disposable protective clothing.
Forensic Restoration is full of hazards from blood and bodily fluids to lethal drugs like fentanyl. To keep workers safe, there are number of regulations and safety measures that must be taken to avoid dire consequences such as an accidental overdose from fentanyl exposure or contracting a bloodborne pathogen, such as HIV.
Meeting the needs of these professionals and ensuring OSHA compliance is best accomplished by maintaining a complete inventory of protective clothing for forensic restoration.