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Crime scene cleaning - attention to detail crucial20th of May 2013
Crime scene cleaning is a highly specialised area which requires sensitivity as well as thorough training in the appropriate processes required. Charlotte Sleven, training and safety, health, environment, quality (SHEQ) manager for cleaning contractor Nviro - which recently secured a contract with a major UK police force - reveals the crucial elements required.
Crime scene cleaning is a highly specialised area which requires sensitivity as well as thorough training in the appropriate processes required. It can include dealing with the aftermath of deaths – suspicious or otherwise – and road traffic collisions, where fatalities or serious injuries may have occurred.
Careful planning and training is required of the team before any work is carried out in this highly skilled area. All traces of an incident have to be fastidiously removed to return the location in question to its pre-incident state before it is reopened to members of the public. Also, this has to be done with discretion as soiled materials may have to be removed from the property via communal areas.
A crime scene cleaning team may also be called in to police cells for a range of incidents, mainly involving bodily fluids. This usually results from arrests involving alcohol, blood from an injury or perhaps even a disgruntled detainee who staged a ‘dirty protest’. This type of clean-up operation can also extend to service vehicles, for similar types of incidents.
The team may also get called to sanitise Police Sexual Assault Referral Centres, where victims of rape or sexual assault are taken. Understandably, the level of hygiene in these areas has to be of the highest standard to ensure that any swabs are not compromised.
Another area of cleaning which most people are probably unaware of is something called a ‘needle sweep’, which follows a drugs raid. The crime scene cleaning team will go in after the police
to check for needles. In cases such as this, it is necessary to consider the possibility that needles could have been dropped or hidden.
Tools of the trade
Before attending any incident it is essential to ensure the team has all the necessary equipment required for the job. Areas may be biologically contaminated so cleaning operatives need to wear suitable personal protection equipment (PPE), which includes a full body non-porous protective suit. The team needs to be made aware that they may come into contact with blood borne pathogens which potentially carry dangerous viruses or diseases.
Health and safety is crucial when cleaning at any crime scene and it’s essential that workers are adequately protected. A key issue for call-outs involving decomposition is odour which needs to be eradicated. Specialist equipment may be required, such as an ozone machine to remove odours, high grade disinfectants, industrial strength deodorisers, carpentry tools for removing carpets and floorboards, as well as specialist bags and an appropriate mode of transport to remove any soiled materials. This list is by no means exhaustive and a crime scene team will have to be fully equipped for every eventuality.
Great care should be taken when cleaning a crime scene so that nothing is missed. Blood droplets and maggots can get into all sorts of locations and have to be removed, as they can carry germs and viruses. A body discovered after a lengthy period of time will require the premises to be deep cleaned, to ensure that all traces of decomposition are fully removed from the property.
A team will only be called to a scene once the deceased has been removed and so they will largely be dealing with a clean-up operation of bodily fluids, insects or larvae. However, this brings its own challenges as bodily fluids will soak into porous materials. Therefore, it is important that these don’t seep back onto the floor or carpets whilst cleaning. An option would be to remove the soaked material and make good, as far as possible, so depending on the situation, cutting out the carpet and floor boards is not unusual.
Compassion and understanding
A real incident is very different from a television crime drama. As you can imagine, you are sending a team into a highly emotional situation and even though it is their job to remove all
trace of what happened, there has to be an element of human understanding and compassion.
Sensitivity should be shown especially when attending an incident in a domestic property, where cleaning operatives may come into contact with members of the family. It is important to be respectful and empathise with the grief that they are going through.
Sometimes it can be hard if children were involved or someone has not been found for a while. Team leaders should be aware that the members of staff may be emotionally affected by the incident, and managers should consider offering counselling to cleaning teams in these circumstances.
Supporting the team
Facing such situations can take its toll but thankfully the majority of daily crime scene cleaning incidents are relatively routine jobs such as cleaning holding cells or cars.
There may be a number of more complicated call-outs but they don’t occur every day. When they do a core team of experienced, competent staff need to be on hand to deal with these jobs. This experienced team should be able to carry out a specialist tasks swiftly, such as carpet extraction and stripping and sealing floors.
On the rare occasions that the team does attend a particularly disturbing incident it is essential that an incident debrief is carried out, giving operatives the opportunity to talk to their line manager at the time. Wherever possible, it’s always best to start a newly qualified crime scene cleaner with a less distressing scene and buddy them up with a more experienced member of staff to break them in gently. Ideally, they will already have completed training in simulated crime scenes to prepare them for the real thing.
When delivering a police contract it will be expected that the crime scene cleaning team provides a reliable, consistent service. Therefore, it is necessary to fully prepare the team to ensure that they have the support to carry out anything that is asked of them.
A few words of advice
Security and sensitivity issues must be front of mind when cleaning crime scenes. Operatives must not speak to anyone about the scenes they have attended or the tasks they have carried out, as this could compromise any on-going police investigations. If a team is called to a densely populated location, which necessitates the removal of contaminated items in public places, this needs to be done discreetly.
Crime scene cleaning is a demanding job which can be distressing and unpleasant at times and no trace of the incident can ever be left behind. The team has to be compassionate, respectful and have a good understanding of the risks involved from blood borne pathogens, such as Hepatitis and HIV.
Every cleaning situation demands meticulous attention to detail, but this is even more important when it comes to crime scene cleaning. It is a challenging area to be involved in, but also infinitely rewarding and fascinating, offering teams the chance to work in partnership with our emergency services as they carry out their crucial duties.