In basic terms, biohazard cleanup is the thorough elimination of potentially dangerous biological substances. Any individual involved in a biohazard cleanup process faces the prospect of exposure to what are known as dangerous pathogens. These pathogens include bacteria and viruses that have the potential for causing disease, including serious and even potentially fatal illness. Because of the risks involved in the biohazard cleaning process, vital safety protocols must be implemented. These include the utilization of appropriate personal protective equipment.
What is Personal Protective Equipment?
Personal protective equipment, also referred to as PPE, is specially designed protective gear that in the case of biohazard cleanup guards against infection. Personal protective equipment for this type of remediation work must be designed and constructed specifically to protect against biohazardous substances. For example, PPE created for a building construction site is not designed to meet the protection requirements associated with coming into contact with a biohazard and vice versa.
When it comes to biohazard cleanup, the PPE at a minimum consists of:
- Respirator of HEPA mask
- Uniform, smock, or similar garment
- Protective eyewear
- Sturdy and durable gloves
What is a Biohazard?
A biohazard is defined as a biological substance of some type that has the potential for causing disease or illness in a human being. Indeed, a biohazard, also known as a biological hazard, can cause very serious and even fatal illness in some cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally categorizes biohazards into one of four primary categories. These are:
- Other microorganisms
Common Types of Biohazardous Situations Warranting Appropriate PPE
Before diving into the specific reasons why wearing appropriate PPE absolutely is imperative, a presentation of the types of situations that commonly give rise to the need for this type of protective gear is important. These more commonplace situations include the scenes of:
- Attempted suicides
- Attempted homicides
- Other violent crimes
- Drug overdoses
- Traumatic illnesses
- Infectious diseases
- Blood spills
- Unattended deaths (or undiscovered deaths)
- Sewage issues
- Rodent droppings
- Homeless encampments
Examples of Hazardous Pathogens Found at Biohazardous Scenes
This list of different types of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, toxins, other microorganisms) that might be present at the biohazardous scene is extensive. With that duly noted, these are some types of pathogens that are more commonplace at biohazardous scenes in the United States or that warrant special note because of their potential severity. These include:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Protecting the Health and Welfare of Persons Involved in Biohazard Cleaning
Biohazard cleaning necessarily or by definition brings a person involved in the process into direct contact with biohazardous substances, material with the potential or propensity to cause disease, even serious or fatal illness. The importance of personal protective equipment for biohazard cleaning can be summed up succinctly by stating it provides a true frontline defense against infection during the remediation process.
The best way of truly underscoring the importance of personal protective equipment is to consider a hypothetical biohazard cleanup situation. Consider a biohazard cleaning scenario involving the aftermath of a mouse infestation in a residence. On some level, cleaning up after mice might seem on the surface to be “not that big of a deal.” In reality, one of the previously mentioned pathogens has been found in mouse droppings. This is the hantavirus.
By way of example, the full array of PPE referenced a moment ago is crucial in order to fully protect a person undertaking mouse dropping cleanup. The hantavirus can remain alive within rat droppings even after these feces dry out. In fact, dried droppings present an even greater health hazard, which further helps to illustrate the importance of multifaceted or comprehensive personal protective equipment.
Dried mouse droppings crumble very easily. They can crumble during the cleanup process. When that occurs, dust from the droppings becomes airborne and that material can contain hantavirus if the mice in question carried the disease.
As a consequence, in the absence of appropriate PPE, a person involved in droppings cleanup could come in direct contact with the feces and the virus if gloves are not worn. Because droppings dust and the virus can become airborne, in the absence of an appropriate respirator or HEPA mask, hantavirus could end up inhaled, causing a person to become infected. In short, an individual could end up afflicted with a virus with the capacity to cause a fatal disease.
On a related note, in the absence of protective eyewear, the dust and virus could end up in a person’s eyes, causing infection through that route. In addition, without biohazard-rated outerwear, the contaminated waste including the virus could attach to clothing and be transmitted to a person involved in cleaning and even others he or she comes into contact with after the task is completed.
In the final analysis, no individual who is to have contact with biohazardous materials or who will be involved in the remediation of these substances should do so without first donning appropriate personal protective equipment. Failing to use appropriate personal protective equipment can have life-threatening consequences.