As life has been upended due to the global pandemic, abatement and remediation contractors have found their market niche of emergency and hazard response in greater and greater demand. This burgeoning market is being driven by Americans who are working or learning from home, as well as commercial building owners who seek peace of mind regarding the cleanliness of their homes or the properties they own or manage. While this shift in the tailwinds of demand is undoubtedly beneficial to our industry and the trained professionals who are its lifeblood, these economic winds are also blowing in the direction of another industry; commercial and residential cleaning services.
Although traditional cleaning services undoubtedly have their place in this global pandemic, such as regularly scheduled commercial and residential cleaning to aid in overall building cleanliness, there is no question that should be the extent of their role. In cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 contamination, an environmental abatement or remediation contractor should be sought to provide cleaning and disinfecting services; not a commercial or residential cleaning service.
Insurance and Bonding Experience Matters
This is beyond dispute for a litany of reasons. First, abatement and remediation contractors have extensive experience navigating the environmental insurance and bonding markets. Most remediation or abatement contractors already carry coverage for asbestos, lead, mold, and sewage response work; therefore, acquiring additional policy enhancements for infectious and communicable diseases takes little effort and does not involve an unfamiliar insurance market.
In comparison, most states don’t require commercial and residential cleaning service to have a trade license or insurance unless they are working with local governments. As a result, many clients may be left unprotected if that they hired one of the many uninsured commercial or residential cleaning companies that advocate their services as COVID-19 capable. What recourse will these clients have in case of inadequate cleaning and disinfecting procedures, or worse, an exposure event?
Increased Protection for Clients
Furthermore, commercial and residential cleaning services are rarely, if ever, required to purchase surety bonds by state or local law. No surety bonding means no client protection if the cleaning service fails to live up to and deliver on its contract. This exacerbates the damage that uninsured cleaning companies can do to clients, as clients are left with little to no recourse or protection outside of the legal system if they must seek compensation.
Comparatively, almost all environmental abatement and remediation contractors are required to obtain surety bonding for certain projects. They understand how to navigate this market. In addition, many have passed a rigorous and professional prequalification bonding approval process which entails, among a multitude of other guarantees, that the bonded contractor has experience matching the requirements of the project, the equipment necessary to do the work, the financial strength to support the work, and has established a bank relationship with a sufficient line of credit.
The certitude and guarantees provided by properly insured and bonded contractors are immeasurable and cannot be understated. Clients should undoubtedly seek the professional services of insured and bonded abatement and remediation companies as they provide the financial security and project completion assurance clients need in these uncertain times.
Expertise Understanding and Applying Regulations
Additionally, the environmental abatement and remediation industry also provide a level of professional expertise interpreting and applying the many local, state, and federal guidelines regarding COVID-19 cleaning that cannot be matched by commercial and residential cleaning companies. This broad experience interpreting the dense, technocratic prose so often used in government regulations and guidelines is critical.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) request that individuals involved in COVID-19 clean-up use N-95 respirators for protection. While this may appear to be a simple request and easy to comply with, nothing could be further from the truth. The guideline references compliance and adherence to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134). Referencing this standard requires, among other things, to know what the Code of Federal Regulations is, know how the General Industry Standard and the Construction Standard converge relating to respiratory protection, and how to interpret the opaque, technical language found within them.
While there are undoubtedly smart, consummate professionals in the commercial and residential cleaning industry, can clients truly expect the cleaning services industry as a whole to adequately acquire the interpretive skills, analytical experience and professional skills that the abatement and remediation industry already have? It is doubtful that an industry that has most likely never had to understand filtering facepiece requirements, it’s fit-testing and medical surveillance requirements, as well as create a written respiratory protection program, will be able to do so extemporaneously.
The same cannot be said for the abatement and remediation industry. The services they provide demand a high level of regulatory understanding, interpretation, and compliance. The abatement and remediation industry must consistently apply OSHA, EPA, and state regulations to the critical mass of their projects. The regulations regarding asbestos, lead, mold, grey water, and black water, among other hazards, demand a high level of certainty, understanding, and technical application.
Understanding and applying the multitude of government regulations, such as OSHA’s Hazardous Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200), Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134), Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030), PPE Standard (29 CFR 1926.28), Eye and Face Protection Standard (29 CFR 1926.102), and Hand Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.138) is never ending. It leads to a better, more adequate understanding of the additional government guidelines and regulations regarding COVID-19 contamination.
Assurance For Clients and Building Residents
As a result, clients can expect abatement and remediation contractors to have an exceedingly higher level of interpretive skills and understanding of government guidelines than commercial and residential cleaning companies. Using appropriate remediation professionals will not only afford clients the assurances they need regarding the cleaning and disinfection of their buildings but will also let them issue these same assurances to their building occupants.
Unmatched Breadth and Depth of Experience
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, clients seeking COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection should unquestionably hire abatement and remediation professionals because of the breadth and depth of experience they have addressing and responding to hazardous material clean up. This experience and technical expertise are unmatched by few industries and certainly cannot be matched by the commercial and residential cleaning services industry.
The consistency and focus required to apply a hazardous materials abatement or remediation work plan safely and compliantly simply cannot be replicated. It requires years of repetitive, specialized training, in addition to extensive pragmatic on-site application. For instance, without proper training and experience applying OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030), how would a cleaning service’s employees know that OSHA requires they take additional precautions to avoid creating splashes, sprays, or splatters whenever they encounter bodily fluids such as spit or mucous on a COVID-19 clean-up? Without proper training or experience, these employees would most likely continue to clean and disinfect, despite the presence of spit or mucous, and spray cleaning agents directly on infected surfaces which would spread, not reduce, the COVID-19 hazard. This would not only exacerbate the extent of contamination but also increase the risk of exposure to the employees themselves.
It could also be surmised that the exposure to these employees would be further compounded when they used chemical cleaning and disinfecting agents. It is improbable they have training in OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) and the Hazardous Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Without proper, repetitive training and experience, how could these employees possibly know that many of the EPA approved chemicals and disinfectants required to combat COVID-19 require chemical cartridges and an upgrade in respiratory protection from an N-95 filtering facepiece?
Ignorance Can Be Deadly
The simple answer is they wouldn’t. Ignorance and non-compliance of this magnitude could be deadly. This is why it is absolutely imperative that clients do not rely on companies that six months ago were engaged in simple commercial and residential cleaning services. Instead, they need to employ the services of abatement and remediation contractors with extensive training and experience creating and carrying out specialized, technical work plans designed explicitly for the removal and remediation of hazardous materials.
Clients that hire uninsured, untrained and inexperienced commercial and residential cleaning companies instead of trained, experienced abatement and remediation professionals expose themselves to an increased risk and financial liability that poses perhaps a greater threat to their livelihoods than the virus itself.
About the Author
Mike Benedetto is the Senior Instructor and Content Developer for CHC Training. He started his career in the hazard abatement industry as a Project Supervisor and then director of Health and Safety. With more than 14 years of experience, Mike brings a focus on developing practical and relevant courses aimed at bridging the gap between a variety of learners. To date he has provided instruction to over 10,000 students across the country. He has a Bachelor’s of Liberal Arts in History and a Master’s of Liberal Arts in Education.