Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Unattended Death

What follows is a descriptive summary of an actual scene we’ve handled. Remember that we are professionals and equipped to handle this type of situation. As you read, imagine what it would have been like for a family member or other non-trained person to deal with this.

Imagine walking by your neighbor’s studio apartment in the middle of the day in August. You glance at his window and ponder why the glass is black. As you pass by, you realize you haven’t really seen him or heard anything from him for a few weeks. He is a quiet man and a bit of a loner, but you usually see him a few times during the week or at least hear his television late at night. Come to think of it, you haven’t even noticed his lights on at night when you get home from work.

Odd, isn’t it? You pause as you pass and notice movement on the glass – just a shimmer of something that catches your eye. Intrigued, you take a closer look and realize the glass is writhing by itself, almost like its alive. Morbid curiosity hits you and you lean closer. You catch a whiff of a peculiar odor that you can’t quite place just as you realize your hand is moving to the window. You can’t stop yourself as your index finger taps roughly on the glass. The dark covering on the inside of the window erupts inward in a swirl of black flies and you briefly catch a glimpse inside… What you see in that moment will stay with you for life.

It was the summer of 2008. After discovering his neighbor’s tragic fate, the young man immediately called 911. The sequence of events at that point followed the usual script. The police arrived, entered the premises, and discovered the man who occupied the studio apartment, or what was left of him, lying on his bed. The young officer who was first on the scene gagged several times from the overwhelming odor and the mass of insects infesting the room. He had never seen anything like it.

Decomposition had set in and the body had gone from the putrefying bloating stage to the point where the body cavities ruptured and connective tissue fell apart. It’s also at this stage where insect activity becomes most prevalent.

The mass of flies in the air was nothing compared to the slippery carpet of maggots where the cavities had ruptured.

When the coroner arrived, they retrieved the deceased man, searching for and finding the majority of parts that sloughed off during the breakdown of the skin and connective tissue. What was left was the putrefied body fluids and everything they came in contact with…not to mention the odor.

When he passed away in his sleep, the man was on his bed in the main room. His decomposing body had soaked through his mattress, the box spring, and into the carpet below. The carpet was teeming with insects. They were prevalent both on the surface and between the carpet and pad, below the pad, and had worked their way under the linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom. His bodily fluids had made it all the way down to the concrete subfloor, and once reaching there, had pooled and spread throughout the studio apartment. Almost 2 gallons of bodily fluids had escaped the body through fissures, cracks, and ruptures in the skin.

As he slept, he also laid his arm on the wall next to him. The fluids which leaked from there saturated the dry wall, soaked through to the sound board beneath, and affected the wooden framing. It completely soaked the sill plates, affecting the sound board and drywall on the adjoining wall.

All of these physical aspects of the man’s death were almost tolerable. It was the odor which was the most difficult to bear. In such a small space, with no real airflow, in the heat of the summer, it was the odor which caused even the most experienced of the responders to fight back the immediate urge to gag. When they finally removed the body, the staff wore full faced carbon filtered supplied air respirators to combat the smell of death.

The coroner reported the man had been deceased for 12-15 days at the point he was found. With no nearby family, the property manager was left to deal with the situation. They immediately notified there insurance company who reached out to us. Could we handle this job? Could we be there that evening to take a look? How soon could we get an estimated cost and start work? Would we be able to get rid of the odor?

We arrived on scene that evening, immediately started decontamination to combat the odor and insects, and got the work done the next day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Choose Winchester?


The crime scene cleanup industry has many rules but little oversight. There are currently companies operating throughout the nation and our local area that are not properly licensed or qualified to perform biohazardous waste removal and transport. Make sure the company you contract with is legally operating in your area!

Winchester Crime and Trauma Recovery possesses ALL required licenses and meets and exceeds OSHA, EPA, and WDNR standards for cleaning, transporting, and disposing of biohazardous and HAZMAT material.

Failure to properly clean up a crime or death scene can have serious consequences, with both legal and civic liability. The health and safety of those involved can be at risk. Whether it is the workers charged with performing the cleanup, the residents or tenants occupying the location following the event, or the property owners who must deal with all the repercussions of a traumatic event, the risk is too high to have the work done improperly.

In accordance with Wisconsin State Statutes and OSHA Regulations, an improperly cleaned property can present a viable human health hazard. According to Wisc. Stat. 254.01(2) a "human health hazard" means a substance, activity or condition that is known to have the potential to cause acute or chronic illness, to endanger life, to generate or spread infectious diseases, or otherwise injuriously to affect the health of the public. Improperly or un-remediated biohazard or HAZMAT incidents present these conditions.

What are the rules and consequences?

Failure to properly clean up a crime or death scene can have serious repercussions, both legally and for the health and safety of those involved.  Whether it be the workers charged with performing the cleanup, the residents or tenants occupying the location following the event, or the property owners who must deal with all the repercussions of a traumatic event.  In accordance with Wisconsin State Statutes and OSHA Regulations, a property improperly cleaned can present a viable human health hazard.  According to Wisc. Stat. 254.01(2)  a "human health hazard" means a substance, activity or condition that is known to have the potential to cause acute or chronic illness, to endanger life, to generate or spread infectious diseases, or otherwise injuriously to affect the health of the public.  Improperly or unremediated conditions present this with bodily fluids and tissue fragments on site.  A detailed cleaning must occur in stages with quaternary biocide, a disinfectant treatment, and inspection to accurately locate and remediate all potentially infectious conditions.  Additionally, because of the physics involved with body decomposition, the potential for significant contamination outside the immediate impact area is generally very high.

The  Bloodborne pathogens which may be present  include, but are not limited to: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), Non A, Non B Hepatitis, Syphilis, Malaria, Babesiosis, Brucellosis, Leptospirosis, Arboviral infections, Relapsing fever, Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, Human T-lymphotrophic Virus Type 1, Viral hemorrhagic fever, and Hanta-Virus.

According to OSHA 29CFR1910.1030, workers who are exposed to these Hazards, and their employers, MUST meet the following standards:

1.       Receive bloodborne pathogen (BBP) training.

2.       Have a written BBP exposure control plan.

3.       Have been provided personal protective equipment (PPE).

4.       Have been offered Hepatitis B vaccine and exposure evaluation and follow-up.

5.       Been provided with a method to remove and properly store the biohazardous waste in properly marked containers for disposal at an approved site.

It is also important to remember that waste generated from these cleanups meet the definition of Regulated Waste. Regulated Waste (per OSHA) is defined as liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials; contaminated items that would release blood or other potentially infectious materials in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed; items that are caked with dried blood or other potentially infectious materials and are capable of releasing these materials during handling; contaminated sharps; and pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or other potentially infectious materials. Please note it does not matter how old blood, body fluids or tissue may be, OSHA still considers them Regulated Waste.

According to both OSHA and the WDNR, Regulated Waste must be placed in containers that are: Closable; Constructed to contain all contents and prevent leakage of fluids during handling, storage, transport or shipping; Labeled or color-coded in accordance with paragraphs 29 CFR 1910.1030 (g)(1)(i); Closed prior to removal to prevent spillage or protrusion of contents during handling, storage, transport, or shipping [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)(B)(1)(i)-(iv)].  Additionally, regulated waste must be handled, transported by a licensed carrier, and disposed of at a licensed facility in accordance with WDNR NR 526.  Placing this regulated waste in a public container is a gross violation of both OSHA and Wisconsin
State Statutes and if not remedied, places the building occupant, any personnel coming  in contact with the container, and city waste management workers at significant risk.

The potential liability for a property owner is extensive.  First and foremost, by hazing a non-trained, non-protected employee attempt to clean up the scene, the potential for OSHA fines exists in the following areas:

· Bloodborne Pathogen Non-Compliance:  up to $70,000

· PPE Rule Non-Compliance:  up to $70,000

Additionally, the Regulated Waste Non-Compliance falls under both the WDNR and OSHA and could result in fines of up to $27,500 per violation per day.

Lastly, allowing occupation of a building that is a public health hazard could result in fines from $5 to $50 per day or 30 days in jail.

Perhaps even more significant is the civil liability which could occur.  The family of the deceased could potential sue for mental anguish as the deceased remains were not handled appropriately.  The worker who cleans the scene could potentially sue a property manager for making them do unsafe work, not providing the proper equipment and safety material, and for any physical effects, long-term chronic illness such as Hepatitis, and for mental distress for having to deal with the situation.  Additionally, if the property is not treated, any tenants also have a strong basis for civil claims against a property owner.