Bringing Clarity to Forensic Restoration

A step-by-step approach to RIA’s new forensic guidelines

Over the past year, C&R readers have learned about an important change occurring in the restoration industry: Contractors who provide services in the area of crime and trauma scene clean-up, hoarder situations, bird and animal infestations, and illicit drug labs have not had a standard work protocol to assist them when dealing with these technically challenging and emotionally charged projects. While excellent training has been available from a variety of vendors, the variations from trainer to trainer and subject to the subject made it difficult for contractors and consultants alike to offer a consistent level of service to their customers.

That is why several experts decided an important step forward would be the production of a guidance document that explains the key practices for forensic work, while, at the same time, bringing an added level of professionalism to the industry. This industry consensus toward a guidance document is one of the primary reasons RIA’s Environmental Council was re-organized to have specific subcommittees. Ever since that re-organization two years ago, the Forensic Restoration Subcommittee has been collecting information for a guidance document.

A DIFFERENT PATH, BUT STILL A MANAGED PROCESS

Given that the development of a voluntary standard for crime and trauma scene work was announced by the IICRC, RIA’s subcommittee focused on developing a set of guidelines. These guidelines for forensic restoration, which are now available, differ from the IICRC’s effort in several important ways. First, RIA guidelines address the full range of forensic restoration work; they are not limited to crime and trauma scenes. Forensic experts realized that there is a strong connection between all areas of forensic work in regards to approaching, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, work practices, and project evaluation. Seeing the connection between these necessary skillsets is what drove the decision to make a single set of guidelines that cover a comprehensive variety of projects.

A second difference between the new RIA guidelines and other documents addressing this topic is that they are guidelines, not voluntary standards. While the terms “guidelines” and “voluntary standards” may sound synonymous, there is a substantial difference in the development process between a set of guidelines and standards. True voluntary standards are usually produced under the guidance of a standard development organization such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The procedures are fairly bureaucratic and cumbersome, but the process is laudable: Open participation by anyone in the industry, as well as a public review of the standard before it is published.

The new RIA document was developed in a consensus fashion, but the process was limited to RIA members. Fortunately, interest in the project resulted in experts from a number of areas joining the organization so that they could help. The development of the guidelines followed a slightly different path than a voluntary standard, but still incorporated plenty of divergent viewpoints and multiple reviews. In fact, more than 500 comments were evaluated after the first draft was put together by a team of forensic subcommittee members. Additional comments were weighed after the document was subjected to a peer review by members of the entire Environmental Council (four subcommittees).

In short, the development of the guidelines involved reaching out to industry experts, assembling their initial thoughts, developing a draft set of guidelines, and refining those guidelines through a series of document review steps with even larger groups of interested individuals. A consensus approach to the information was maintained so that the guidelines truly reflect the best thinking of industry professionals at this point in time.

BASIC COMPONENTS OF RIA’S NEW FORENSIC GUIDELINES

The RIA Forensic Guidelines are designed to be a straightforward user guide for people working in that segment of the cleaning and restoration industry — known as “operators” in the guidelines. It has 10 basic sections along with endnotes, disclaimers, and acknowledgments. One of the features that makes the guidelines different from similar documents is the section immediately following the opening Scope section, which is a summary of the main points in chart form, entitled “Key Aspects of the Guidelines.” In just a few pages, the chart provides an overview of the primary responsibilities of forensic restoration operators. Just as important as the comprehensive nature of the chart is that it quickly and clearly shows the progressive nature of the guidelines.

Having the Key Aspects chart at the front of the document ensures that readers swiftly see that the guidelines start with basic precautions required for straightforward work. The guidelines add increasingly stringent procedures as the projects get more complex and potentially more dangerous. Each aspect of work falls under one of four categories, simply called Risk Level 1 through Risk Level 4. Since the chart is only a summary, it is to be used as a quick reference guide. Forensic operators will miss a lot of critical details if they rely solely on the Key Aspects chart to inform their decision-making.

Following this summary chart is an introduction to the guidelines and definitions of important terms used in the document. There was quite a debate about some of the crucial terms — especially how to organize the risk levels and a specific definition for a mass casualty. Many government agencies describe a mass casualty as “an event that overwhelms the capacity of local public safety and medical services,” but such a variable explanation would not give clarity to these guidelines since mass casualty forces the forensic operator to treat the project as a Risk Level 4 with the greatest precautions. Therefore, the guidelines describe mass casualty as “any incident that results in four or more deaths or severely injured individuals, such as from a disaster or act of terrorism.”

A STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH

Sections 5–10 of the new Forensic Guidelines walk an operator of such a restoration project through each major step. Interestingly, the experts who developed the recommendations agreed that it was imperative to have an extensive section on pre-project responsibilities. Section 5 offers advice on selection criteria for crew members, recommended training (stair-stepped depending on the risk level of the tasks assigned to the crew members), and overall crew priorities. Assembling appropriate equipment — including personal protective equipment, work practice equipment, post-project evaluation equipment, and waste disposal materials — is also laid out in Section 5. Additional guidance is offered regarding suggested insurance coverage and the importance of a thorough site assessment.

Sections 6–10 cover each major phase of forensic restoration work in detail. Specifically, they offer solid recommendations related to:

Project set-up
Use of personal protective equipment Work practices
Post-project evaluation
Waste disposal.

 

A consensus approach to the information was maintained so that the guidelines truly reflect the best thinking of industry professionals at this point in time.

Each of the major sections is subdivided into material specific for projects that fit the four risk levels. As noted, the information for each recommendation builds on the recommendations for each of the lower risk levels. (This progressive pattern holds true except where such a build-up approach is not logical, such as for respirators. Respirators with progressively higher worker protection factors are recommended rather than wearing a full-face respirator on top of a half-face respirator.) This approach facilitates the training of crew members and is patterned after standard infection control practices in medical facilities.

A BIG STEP FORWARD

Although not unexpected, it was gratifying to all of the experts who worked on the RIA Forensic Guidelines that there was unanimous agreement to include the use of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) surface samples for evaluation of projects in Risk Levels 2–4. This technology has been shown to be invaluable in the food services and medical industries for measuring the effectiveness of infection control efforts. Several years ago, the versatility of ATP samples for evaluating cleanliness was given a big boost when it was validated as part of a cleaning standard for K-12 schools. The science and extensive field validation of this technology that gives on-site results in 15 seconds means that it is time for the forensic restoration industry to adopt ATP sampling for projects with serious ramifications like trauma and animal contamination.

While the RIA Forensic Restoration Guidelines are a relatively short and straightforward read, an abundance of detail is tucked into them. Any cleaning or restoration company that is currently working on such projects, or an organization that is considering venturing into this niche of the restoration field, should use this document as the platform for their work. Companies that use these guidelines will better serve their customers while protecting their crew members and their business. RIA

Michael A. Pinto

For 30 years Michael A. Pinto has held the title of Certified Safety Professional in Comprehensive Practice (CSP). His further accreditation in the field is as a Safety Management Specialist. In addition to his safety certifications Michael has earned a number of titles in the restoration industry including Certified Mold Professional (CMP), Registered Third-Party Evaluator (RTPE), Forensic Restoration Operator (FRO), and Fire Loss Specialist (FLS). Nor does Mr. Pinto just accumulate knowledge, as he has shared his expertise through the publication of numerous textbooks and over 250 published articles. For this work Michael has been recognized by numerous groups including being honored with the RIA’s Phoenix award and Martin L. King award. Michael can be reached at Wonder Makers Environmental by phone (269) 382-4154, or e-mail map@wondermakers.com

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