Friday, September 10, 2010

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.

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