The CSI of a Clean-Up Job
A robbery suspect is on the run, pursued by the police. At a busy street corner, he pulls out a gun. The policeman order him to drop the gun but he refuses. They fire six shots and kill him.
In another scene, a man has been stabbed multiple times and now lies face down in a pool of blood in the kitchen of his apartment. His hands and feet bound by duct tape. In scenarios such as these, the police take charge while initial investigations are conducted. These could involve anything from lifting fingerprints to taking blood and hair samples. But once they leave, another difficult task takes place the clean-up job. Cleaning up a crime, suicide or accident scene is not about sweeping and mopping the floor with household detergent or, in this case of outside scenes, hosing away the dirt and blood into the nearest drain. Crime scenes can be messy with blood splattered on walls or, in the case of fires, burnt skin and body parts left behind. There could be dangerous materials, such as biologically contaminated or chemical substances on the scene. Some examples are methamphetamines such from a drug lab or anthrax. Cleaning up such scenes is not a job for the average house or office cleaning office.
Act with Caution
The task of cleaning up a crime or accident scene is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Personnel involved in the task can be exposed to all sorts of conditions including poison or communicable diseases. To illustrate the point, Maclean Services chief executive officer Simon Lim recalls the case of the domestic maid who was found dead in the house when her employer returned from a holiday. “The family did not know the cause of death so it could be anything, even a transmittable disease,” - Lim says
After the police had completed investigations, the maid’s employer hired maclean services to clean up. The company provides pest control and cleaning services and one of its specialties are cleaning up crime scenes. “We started by decontaminating the house. It is important that we use the proper disinfectants,” Lim says. It is a three stage process: disinfecting the house by spraying disinfectants (a process called ”misting”), wiping and mopping. The misting process is to ensure air-conditioning ducts are also clean to ensure no bacteria or dangerous airborne materials are left in the air. Maclean Services has been called for many types of cases, such as homicides and suicides, as well as to clean up areas affected by SARS or H1N1. Personnel are required to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles, gloves, shoes, safety glasses, coveralls, vests or full body suits, ear plugs or muffs, hard hats, long sleeve tops and respirators. The cleaners must also come armed with buckets, brushes and cleaning paraphernalia. The aim is to restore the scene to its pre-incident state, a process known in the business as “remediation”. The process of returning a crime scene to its pre-event state can be quite a mundane one. “It is not like anything shown in the movies. What you see in the movies is sensationalised,” says Lim. All the same, a proper clean job can sometimes be necessary.
In Malaysia, the crime scene clean-up business is still in its infancy. The authorities do not have a systematic approach on standard practices, maintenance and licensing. There is no procedure to ensure that the scene of the crime has returned to a hygienic environment after the clean-up is done. Furthermore, few people are qualified to do the job. Even at the global level, the criteria for recognition as a qualified cleaner differs. In the United States, a certified expert in crime and trauma scene recovery is known as abio-recovery technician. To be certified, a person has to be certified by the American BioRecovery Association. Personnel must learn how to handle animal blood, tissue, odours and chemicals used in police investigations. They must be skilled in containing hazards such as infectious diseases that can be transmitted through air, or fluids that can infect those who come in contact with them. Apart from that, there is damaged property, teargas debris and fingerprint dust. To the untrained eye, it looks like a messy clean-up job. In Malaysia, crime scene cleaning is an unregulated industry, says Lim. At the international level, there are stringent rules governing the clean-up process, but herethere are no requirements to register with any authority to get credentials, licensing and training. On the other hand, pest control companies have to follow proper procedures before licenses are issued. For instance, several licences are mandatory in the pest control industry. The service provider and operator are required to have a pest applicator license, pest control operations licence and fumigation license when handling cyanide gas.
Those involved in the business here learn by attending seminars overseas or through online courses. Maclean personnel sign up for the courses with international training institutes such as British Institute of Cleaning Science that offer globally recognised qualifications used across the industry. They also register with the International Sanitary Supply Association to keep up with the industry standards to continue their education.
Not the Responsibility of the Police
In the event of a crime, suicide or accident, the responsibility of the police forensic officers is confined to conducting investigations. Paramedics may be present if there are injured persons. Once investigations are completed, police may remove some items as evidence, including the corpse in a murder or suicide. Once policemen and investigators leave the crime scene, the cleaners move in according to Maclean Services safety and health officer Emran Mohamad. If the scene is a public place or in the open, it is usually the Fire and Rescue Services Department that takes responsibility for cleaning up the area, and they engage a cleaning service company like us. Materials used in the cleaning process must also be handled with care. For instance, tissues to wipe blood off surfaces is disposed off as medical waste using a specially marked bin. Equipment has to be sterilized after use. In Malaysia, it is the practice to leave the cleaning up to the owners of the premises. Either family members clean up themselves or engage regular cleaning service providers. Most people are not aware of possibly dangerous substances at crime scenes that require specialised cleaning procedures.