What is this industry about? When a person sustains an illness or injury that produces blood, body fluids or human tissue, someone has to clean it up. When this occurs in a healthcare facility, it’s typically handled by their housekeeping staff. When it occurs anywhere else, who cleans it up can vary greatly. Until the 1990’s, these scenes were mostly cleaned up by family members, neighbors or co-workers. In schools or industry it was typically the janitor. Aside from the yuck-factor of the scene, no one, not doctors nor scientists even considered the possibility of blood, body fluids and tissue containing life-threatening diseases. It was not until the emergence of the virus HIV that causes AIDS and a sudden increase in cases of Hepatitis B from accidental needle sticks in hospitals did the authorities realize that human blood, body fluids and tissue exposure could result in illness and even death. As a result, suddenly no one wanted to clean up these scenes. No one except a few reluctant restoration companies and funeral homes who were begged and pleaded with by desperate home and business owners. As a result, a few entrepreneurs, mostly from the EMS and Fire community saw the need for a business to professionally clean and restore these scenes and took it upon themselves to provide that service. In 1996 there were less than twenty of these companies nationwide. Today it’s a recognized industry of over 2,000 service providers, a large number of them trained with material developed by NIDS. Why do they do it? Some do it because they feel a calling to help others during an emotional crisis. Others do it because it is a lucrative service that typically pays well due to the potential emotional and health risks associated with the job. Still others are attracted by the satisfaction of helping others AND being well paid for it.
What is it like? There is no way around the fact that this is hard work. First, this service is like all emergency services in that you are on call 24/7/365. When someone needs you, it can be during lunch, the middle of the night, or on a holiday. None of the scenes are easy. Someone was hurt or died there. It’s ugly. Depending on the nature of the event, the scene could be fresh or it could have remained undiscovered for weeks during the summer in a house with no air conditioning. The smells can be nauseating. Often you must interact with distraught and emotionally traumatized family members, as well as justifying your work to an insurance adjuster. While wearing a biohazard suit and a respirator, you will be removing carpeting and padding, cutting and removing hardwood floors, removing sections of walls, cleaning ceilings, washing walls, applying disinfectant and moving furniture. You will be inspecting nearly every inch of the affected property…and beyond to assure that no drop of blood, tooth, bone fragment or tissue escaped detection and removal. You must have a strong stomach, a keen eye, physical and emotional strength and a big heart.
What kind of cleanup jobs might I face? You may have to deal with blood that has soaked through an upstairs floor and is dripping into the room below, decomposition fluids that have soaked deep into a concrete floor, blood and tissue on the outside of the 18th floor of a hotel, brain matter and skull fragments in the cab of a crane after an industrial accident, or dismantling a large industrial machine in order to retrieve body parts and disinfect the device. You may also be called to cleanup up a gunshot suicide in a car or the sleeper of an eighteen wheeler where a heart attack victim lay dead for a week before being discovered. Each scene is unique and presents different challenges. The NIDS crime and trauma course covers much of these scenarios and how to handle them. We also have an additional course for dealing with all types of vehicles, including cars, trucks, construction equipment, RVs and more.
Can I do this by myself? The short answer is NO. Moving a china-cabinet, carrying a king sized mattress down a flight of stairs, or moving an eight foot sofa out to the truck is not a job for one person. Also, due to the potential hazards involved, a second technician on the scene is essential, and falls under the OSHA regulations regarding the use of the buddy system in hazardous situations.
How profitable is this business? Profit margins in this industry are high. Most successful owners make six figures, providing the client pool is large enough to support them. A service area of 300,000 people tends to generate enough business to support those numbers. There are companies serving higher populations that are grossing 7 figures a year. But, like any other business or industry, your numbers will vary depending on how many providers are already there, are they well liked, do they do a good job, are they competitively priced, and are you prepared to compete with them for that business? NIDS offers a Business Marketing course that will help prepare you to compete for market share, as well as providing pricing advice to assure you are competitive.
How do I find out if there is a market share for me? You will need to do some research which includes visits, phone calls and online searches. The first thing to do is to find out all you can about your competition. Who is already doing this in your area? Do they have a good reputation? What are their weaknesses? The next thing is to ask for an appointment with the Coroner. In some areas they don’t have Coroners, they have a Medical Examiner system. The Medical Examiner is a physician who performs the autopsies but also has a team of field investigators that go to the scene and investigate the nature and manner of death. Ask for a meeting with the Coroner, the Chief Deputy Coroner or a Medical Examiner’s Chief Investigator. Ask them if they know the current cleanup providers in the area. Ask how the families or business owners become aware that those services are available. Ask if you were to provide your service, would they be open to making referrals to you or adding you to a handout list if they in fact have such a tool. Some Coroners and investigators avoid making referrals, while others recognize the importance of the service and will actively give out your cards or at the very least add your company to a list they provide to victim’s families or business owners. After your meeting with these authorities, you are on your way to step 2, which is talking to other potential referral sources. Our website offers an excellent and comprehensive course on marketing and over 25 proven sources to market to in your area.
What training will I need? Crime and Trauma Cleaning is not just cleaning. You will need to know and comply with OSHA regulations, EPA Regulations, FDA Regulations, learn what special detergents are best at cleaning blood and body fluids, understand the various types and chemistries of disinfectants, knowing what tools and supplies you will need, learning deconstruction methods and techniques for removing structural components of buildings, how to package the collected waste and how to dispose of it, State laws and permits, what protective gear will be needed to be worn, how to select the proper respirators and comply with fit testing and medical requirements, how to deal with bereaved persons and the stages of grief, dealing with insurance companies, pricing, billing, formatting an invoice, and more. NIDS offers excellent, comprehensive courses that address these topics. If you are removing paint or a painted section of a wall in a property built before 1978, you will have to take a one-day course for testing and removing lead-based paint. This course is offered through many local community colleges and a certificate is awarded through the Environmental Protection Agency. There are similar requirements regarding the disturbing of asbestos-containing materials.
What licenses or permits will I need? Nearly every state has a law regarding the transportation and disposal of regulated medical waste. Some states consider crime and trauma waste in homes and businesses to be regulated medical waste, and some states don’t. You will have to contact your state office of solid waste management to determine if you will have to apply for a license/permit. Since you will be performing deconstruction of portions of buildings (such as removing flooring, wall studs, drywall) and perhaps you also intend to build back those areas to a pre-event state, you will need to contact your state or county building codes office to determine if you will need a contractors license. Some states have what is commonly referred to as a specialty contractors license which is much easier to obtain, and cheaper. Half of the states require any business that applies disinfectants to have a pesticide applicators license. Check with your State to determine if you will need one. Many cities and counties require you to obtain a business license for the area you will serve.
How do I market my business? Direct marketing to the public is rarely remembered in a time of crisis. In person meetings, direct mail, sponsorships, brochures and business cards all play a role but knowing who to target is the key. Our course outlines over 25 sources you can approach to get business. We also show you how to market through social media and websites for those who search online for help. NIDS Marketing course not only covers marketing, it also covers the many ways to advertise, what to say and what not to say, and best of all….avoiding wasting time and money on things that don’t work.
What kind of vehicle do I need? Not only will you need to bring a crew to a scene, but you will have a significant amount of equipment, chemicals, supplies, and tools too. When you leave, you will often be carrying away boxes of regulated medical waste, furniture, mattresses, carpeting, dry wall, contaminated lumber, couches, etc. You don’t want boxes of decomposing corpse parts and blood in the same compartment as the driver and crew. There are several options.
- Pickup truck and enclosed trailer
- Van and enclosed trailer
- Pickup truck with cap and open trailer
- Box truck
- Enclosed Utility Box Truck and trailer
Notice I didn’t say a pickup truck or van by themselves. There is simply not enough room. It’s important to know that the size of the vehicle (or vehicle and trailer), the cargo you are carrying and the weight of the vehicle may require that you register the vehicle with the Department of Transportation (DOT). If you will be crossing state lines, that may factor in as well. Some states require that if you are transporting material that is packaged as regulated medical waste, the vehicle must be properly marked and/or placarded with the appropriate signage and wording.
Is it dangerous? Scenes may contain bloody broken glass, sharp metal, rotten floors, heights, trip hazards, electrical hazards, and disease. If you are properly trained, wear the proper protective equipment and have the necessary vaccine inoculations, your risk is minimized, but never, ever, skimp on safety.
What kind of equipment and supplies will I need? There are a number of pieces of common equipment as well as specialty equipment. Some can be purchased at the local home improvement stores, but the specialty equipment will need to be purchased through restoration supply companies. Disposable supplies like drop cloths, tarps, towels, scrapers, squeegees, scrubbies and others can also be purchased at the local home improvement stores. You will also need personal protective equipment such as biohazard suits, respirators, gloves, booties and face shields. Chemicals will need to be ordered from restoration product suppliers, including cleaning agents and disinfectants, blood detection chemicals and deodorants. Plan on spending at least $10,000 on equipment and supplies. The NIDS Crime and Trauma course explains every piece of equipment and supplies you will need to address most any scene you will encounter.
What form of business should I choose? Most choose either an LLC or an S-Corporation. Consult your attorney for details, but do not set up as a partnership or sole proprietor because the liability exposure is too high.
What kind of insurance will I need? Very few insurance brokers or their agents are familiar with coverage for crime and trauma cleaning companies. Most will shy away from offering coverage, and a few will try to sell you policies that may not truly cover you in the event of a claim due to exemptions hidden deep in the small print. There are however a small number of experienced brokers who specialize in this coverage and will be able to tailor a package that will address your needs. At the least, that will include customized plans for General Liability, Professional Liability, Pollution, Workers Compensation, Commercial Vehicle Insurance and Inland Marine coverage. Additional coverage may be required depending on the specific work you will be doing in addition to blood, body fluids and tissue. Expect to pay several thousand dollars for this coverage, but the good news is that many brokers can get your bill financed into monthly payments. We provide our students with the names of insurance brokers who specialize in crime and trauma cleaning coverage on request.
This all sounds very complicated. Actually, it’s not. And when compared to many other industries, it is much easier and cheaper to start. Another advantage is that the financial returns are high compared to the amount of time actually spent on the job. As I said earlier, many owners earn salaries that rival PhD-educated persons, and you don’t need a degree to run this business. It is a business however, and you must be 100% dedicated to it and be willing to get out and market it. Business will not just come to you because you have the equipment. Those in this business who are aggressive reap big rewards. I know owners who have yachts, high-end cars, motorcycles, speedboats, take vacations monthly, eat at the finest restaurants and absolutely LOVE their job. In fact, whether their company is big or small, every owner I know (and I know a lot) loves this business…LOVES IT. There is a lot of satisfaction in helping families in their time of need and getting paid well for it is icing on the cake. Take time to review this information. When you are ready, we are here to teach you what you need to know to hit the ground running. You will be joining an elite group of people who made the right decision for their life.