Trauma Cleanup: The Intersection of Professionalism & Empathy

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In reviewing countless trauma jobs over the past 20 years, the difference between executing the job well or not comes down to one key factor—how we made the customer feel. Epitaphs like “I felt cared for” and “they showed so much care and compassion to my family” are vital to a successful job.  The nature of our business is to respond to and support individuals through devastating and often traumatizing events. For me, the most challenging and gut-wrenching jobs I have had involved children, and I worked to keep my mind focused on the task at hand. 

Teams may encounter many different types of scenes in this field of work.  Intentional or unintentional death from homicide, murder-suicide, a physical crime involving a gun or knife, burglaries, suicides, and more. Upon arrival, the scene may be jammed with media, local authorities, crime scene detectives, or the coroner. This will be overwhelming for the family and require your team’s utmost professionalism. 

When approaching a job, remember to close our filters, assumptions, judgments, and opinions to hear what the customer is sharing and understand what is being said. We must appreciate and reflect on a customer’s perspective and effectively ask clarifying questions. These questions can range from “what I heard you say is” or “can you explain what you said in further detail”? Our ability to actively listen with the intent to understand a customer in need shows that we care and that their perspective matters. 

Once the scene has been cleared, and you are meeting with the owner to commence work, pay attention to body language and recognize non-verbal cues when working with grieving customers. Are they engaged and asking questions, or do they seem removed and unfocused? Assess to see if you need further discussions with another family member or a friend. When working with people experiencing intense emotional pain, knowing the right thing to say is hard. Validating the customer’s emotions with empathy can be as simple as, “this must be so hard for you; I am so sorry,” or even, “I cannot imagine what you are feeling; please know our company is here to help.”

Beginning Work

Conducting a site assessment for safety concerns and creating a scope of work through documentation is imperative. All photographs taken for documentation should remain confidential and only be used to paint an accurate scope of the loss area.  During the assessment, the team may encounter blood, feces, small body pieces, bone fragments, or other matter. Jobs involving murder-suicide or certain guns will be much more challenging to clean up. How vast is the debris field? How many rooms are affected? Is the HVAC compromised? When thinking through all of these questions, safety is the number one principle, and teams must consider what personal protective equipment (PPE) will be needed and the types of equipment, chemicals, containment, and waste disposal that should be considered.  

Explain to the customer that you will be donning (putting on) personal protective equipment to protect the team while they are cleaning. Donning your PPE will most often be done at the truck before entering the property. PPE would include, but is not limited to, respiratory protection, a coverall suit, gloves, and head and foot protection. 

The process of cleaning and decontamination is very detailed. A challenging structural material can be wood floors. Did the blood soak through the planks? What is the subfloor made of? Will I be able to thoroughly clean and decontaminate all areas, or will some removal be required? When we encounter blood splatter on wood or other materials, we have a greater opportunity to clean an area than when an item is soaked in blood. Explore all areas of the material, looking for any contamination, and continue cleaning until all potentially affected areas have been cleaned. 

When the cleaning and decontamination is complete, the contaminated waste must be disposed of in accordance with local, state, and provincial laws. Waste must be collected in rigid containers that are labeled with a biohazard symbol. Many companies specialize in the collection and disposal of items saturated in blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) and will ensure your waste is picked up and disposed of in accordance with the appropriate regulations. This service comes at a price and will add to the overall invoice for the customer. 

Training

Biohazard clean-up work is a specialized service that requires training in the “how-to of a job” and the “how-to of working with people” that have suffered a traumatic event. The ability to show compassion and kindness to people who have suffered builds trust and confidence that your company can provide the support needed to complete the job exceptionally and thoroughly. Remember that the customer’s state of mind may be different than you expect when on a trauma job. Could they be suffering from post-traumatic stress or physical or mental issues that are compounding the crises at hand? Can you leverage the assistance of a family member or friend to navigate the scene, giving you the time needed to perform the cleanup? 

If you have been performing trauma work for any period, you more than likely have experienced a customer struggling to handle everyday tasks during a traumatic event. When these challenges arise, it is your time to shine and confidently maintain your composure while helping them when they need you most.  

There is power in showing kindness to others, especially in times of need. Exhibiting empathy and compassion for our customers is at the heart of providing exceptional customer service.

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Leslie Anderson

Leslie Anderson has been in the restoration business for 20+ years since she opened her own restoration company. After selling her business, she joined Paul Davis Restoration Inc. as a Regional Business Consultant. In 2011, she began her IICRC certification training path and is currently an IICRC Instructor for Water, Applied Structural Drying, Trauma Crime Scene, and Fire & Smoke Remediation. She is currently an IICRC Board of Directors member and serves as Vice Chair for the IICRC Education Committee. Additionally, she is the Vice Chair for the S540 IICRC Standard of Care.  Leslie is the Senior Vice President of Training & New Owner Launch for Paul Davis Restoration Inc. She oversees a team that provides extensive educational opportunities for franchises across North America. Leslie has been married for 30 years to Dan and has two wonderful sons.

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