When compared to a fire or water loss, property damage resulting from a suicide, murder or unattended death poses greater risk and complexity for the adjuster, the biohazard cleanup company, and of course, the policyholder. Many cleaning and restoration companies will offer bioremediation services, but only those that specialize in this area truly understand the science and intricacies of the bioremediation and decontamination process. In order to minimize risk for the insurance carrier and ensure the safety of the policy holder, it’s important to realize the inherent challenges of bioremediation and the processes and standards that every biohazard cleanup professional must adhere to.
Am I liable for an improper biohazard cleanup?
At some point in their careers, insurance professionals may have experienced sticker shock from a bioremediation claim. How could the biohazard cleanup of a single room cost more than recovering an entirely flooded home? It might be tempting to retain a trusted property damage restoration company at a lower cost, but doing so may put the insurer at risk for a lawsuit.
Consider a recent case where a general cleaning company was hired to sanitize a home after 600 pounds of deer meat rotted in a family’s garage due to a power outage. Following the cleaning, the homeowners reported that the rotting stench still remained throughout the house and that some family members became ill. Experts who were brought in to investigate the situation determined that the enduring smell and sickness resulted from inefficiencies in the cleaning process, such as the failure to seal concrete surfaces. Consequently, the policyholders are suing the insurance company for a new home, valued at $600,000.
Why is bioremediation so complex?
Many biohazard situations pose grave health risks to policy holders and cleanup companies because of the potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens. One out of every 24 people has Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV and these pathogens can survive in a deceased person for a considerable amount of time – up to 16 days after death, depending on the temperature and surrounding environment. Exposure to bloodborne viruses can occur due to direct contact with non-intact skin, accidental injury from biological fragments, inhalation and exposure from splashes of blood or bio fluid to the eyes, nose, or mouth. Considering the health risks, bioremediation specialists must follow stringent employee safety regulations and meticulous decontamination procedures that most cleanup crews are not accustomed to.
Separately, biohazard situations can lead to hidden dangers that an average property restoration technician might not even consider. For example, in a water damage emergency, floor boards and drywall might be removed because they are visibly warped and unsalvageable. Then the rest of the structure can be dried out. In contrast, blood can seep through grout and in-between floorboards, even through subflooring. There is no other way to clean the damage but to remove all affected materials – if new wood floors are installed over the blood spill or if tiles are simply wiped down, the remaining bio matter can spread disease, release odors and further damage the property.
How do I evaluate a bioremediation provider?
To determine whether or not a company is qualified to handle a biohazard situation, insurance professionals need a deeper understanding of proper bioremediation standards and what it takes to fully decontaminate a property. These are the key things to inquire about when choosing a vendor for a biohazard cleanup:
OSHA Compliance – These regulations are in place to protect the biohazard company employees and to prevent injury and potential liability for all involved. All supervisors and field technicians should be trained in the following OSHA programs: Bloodborne Pathogens, Personal Protective Equipment, Hazard Communication, Asbestos Awareness, Heat Illness, Fall Protection, Lift Safety, Lock Out – Tag Out, and Power Tool Safety. A common misstep among restoration companies is that they only comply with the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standards, instead of all the aforementioned areas.
EPA and State Environmental Agency Compliance – The disposal of medical waste must be in accordance with federal, state and/or local regulations. Not all biohazard remediation companies are licensed to transport or store medical waste so it’s essential to understand if/how they comply with the local and national standards. The cleaning company can incur hefty fines if medical waste is not disposed of properly. Also, employees need to be trained in the proper use of cleaning agents – this can be more complicated than it seems, as many agents will become inactive if not measured and diluted properly.
Reporting/Testing – A reputable company should be able to deliver a detailed reportwhich catalogs every step of the cleanup process. This should include photos of the entire process as well, so the policy holder and adjuster understand why some structural materials needed to be removed, what was disposed, why the employees went through a certain amount of protective equipment, etc. They should also have equipment available to check for non-visible but active biological fluids and other contaminants so that it is certain when an area is considered disinfected.
Sensitivity Training – Dealing with a flood or fire can be extremely traumatic, but it does not compare to the loss of loved one. During these traumatic situations, the family members often stay at home so it is imperative that the workers in their home are compassionate and considerate. Biohazard cleanup specialists understand the need for the family to deal with only one point person in order to avoid confusion or conflicting updates. They have been trained to eliminate alarming language from their vocabulary and speak empathetically with the policyholder.
When it comes to biohazard remediation, there is no quick solution. The fact that there are no laws protecting policy holders through a biohazard cleaning process puts the responsibility on the insurance carrier to work with bioremediation specialists who follow strict safety standards and cleanup procedures. If the insurance carrier directs the cleanup process and even one of the above points is neglected, they might be held liable for any further health and property damages resulting from the improper cleanup. It is important to remember that you can’t put a price tag on the peace of mind that a policy holder needs after a traumatic crime or death occurred in their home or place of business.
Tim Reifsteck is the co-founder of Aftermath, a national company specializing in crime scene clean up and biohazard remediation following unattended deaths, homicides and suicides in homes and businesses. For more information about biohazard cleanup procedures and regulations, please contact Aftermath CMO, Dana Todd, at (630) 423-4250.