Biohazard cleanup – Sometimes death is only the beginning
Gerry Rogers, President & CEO
URI – Unlimited Restoration, Inc.
Imagine being called by your mother’s employer because she has not been to work for two days, has not called in, and was not answering her phone, which is totally out of character for her. You call your sister and together you visit your mother’s house to find she has been the victim of a grisly murder.
This is what happened to the son of 66 year old Evelyn Hofferberth in November of 2011. Little did Scott Hofferberth know that his mother’s death would only be the beginning of this tragedy. After some discussion, the family decided to hire a crime scene clean-up service to clean the remaining bodily fluids from the crime scene after she was removed by the coroner.
The family was presented with an engagement contract by the contractor with itemized charges but no estimated total cost for their services. The family signed the contract, had the house cleaned, and then received a bill for $12,000 for their services. The invoice was for a little over 6 hours of work done by a three man team. The crew removed the bodily fluids and the affected floor tiles from beneath where the body had been situated. Then they applied a sanitizer to the entire room.
Unfortunately, the above situation is not unique with the biohazard cleaning world. Even though crime scene clean-up has been going on for centuries, the work as a profession is in its infancy. It is only within the last year that a professional standard was developed by IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) which establishes guidelines for cleaning and decontamination.
What is a biohazard? According to Merriam-Webster a biohazard is “a biological agent or condition that is a hazard to humans or the environment”. In the property restoration world a biohazard cleanup usually refers to crime scenes involving bodily fluids and raw sewage. It does not include hazmat cleaning, lead or asbestos abatement.
Why was the clean-up cost so expensive? It appears outrageous to charge $12,000 for a three man crew doing a little less than a day’s work. One factor driving costs is the expense to engage the right people and the associated training and safety requirements of their work. Where else, outside of first responders or the military, would a worker be required to deal with blood borne pathogens like AIDS, HIV, and hepatitis? They would also be exposed to the risk of injection from fluid laden sharp objects, inhalation of bacterial spores, and suffer from a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder. This would be a unique person indeed. After you find that unique person you have to train them in how to follow OSHA regulations governing general industry standards, construction industry standards, hazardous materials, blood borne pathogens, emergency action and fire prevention plans, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection regulations, and biological hazards, in addition to 8 unique regulations governing biohazards. While it is certain that the level of training is higher and certification is an evolving process state by state, it is my opinion that the lack of willing people is what drives the cost the most.
A technician preforming a biohazard cleanup would need to follow all of the general standards followed by a water tech and then protect himself from allergenic, toxigenic, and pathogenic microorganisms that could attack the body thru inhalation, absorption, ingestion and injection by wearing a respirator with a HEPA grade filter along with an organic vapor cartridge, and a non-permeable coverall including hood and booties, non-permeable gloves, and eye protection. They would also be required to perform good overall hygiene including protection of any open wounds and abrasions, in addition to having various vaccinations, be subjected to periodic medical evaluations above and beyond what are customary for restoration techs, as well as participation in a safety plan designed to minimize the potential exposure to post traumatic stress disorder, with appropriate treatment for any warning symptoms.
So how do we avoid paying the wrong price for biohazard clean-up? First it’s important to have someone other than the immediate family review and select a contractor during such an emotional time. It’s best to have a trusted person who can be unemotional engage the right services at a good price. Some states now require that a total cost estimate be submitted to the customer along with the contract, rather than be given a list of itemized charges that are open-ended.
After a complaint was filed by the Hofferberth family to the state attorney general, and various legal maneuvers by the insurance company, the insurance company paid $9,000 for the services provided and the Hofferberth family paid the remaining $3,000 out of their own pocket. In my opinion the fees charged the family were excessive, but the bill was paid. The reasons for the high costs were varied, but the fact that the price was paid does not mean the price was the right price.
In closing, it seems that as the biohazard clean-up market grows, it will consolidate and mature. As the market matures, companies will publish price lists so pricing will cease to be a mystery, and companies that preform biohazard clean-up will be more prevalent. As more companies compete for jobs the price will continue to come down until it reaches equilibrium with supply and demand.
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Mr. Rogers at 484-576-3112 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This newsletter is a publication of Southern Loss Association, Inc., P.O. Box 421564, Atlanta, GA 30342. The articles written in the newsletter are in a general format and are not intended to be legal advice applicable to any specific circumstances. Legal opinions may vary when based on subtle factual differences. All rights reserved. Publication date – 04-11-18