What Does it Take to Make it in the Biohazard Cleanup Industry?

After four years serving as an Assistant Pro at a golf course, Andrew Whitmarsh was ready for a major career path change. After hearing about the opportunity for a  crime scene clean up job as a Field Technician with Aftermath through a friend, he decided to take a chance.

Andrew traded in his clubs for a biohazard cleanup suit, and began working with Aftermath in 2010 completing crime scene cleanups. As a technician, Andrew was a member of a team who came in after the coroners, law enforcement and crime scene investigators left a scene. Whether the job was the result of a homicide, violent death, suicide or unattended death, Andrew and his team were responsible for remediating the property to pre-trauma condition.

Eventually, Andrew decided to complete supervisor training, and within just eight months, had his own truck at the Chicago office and was on the road assisting families as a supervisor. As a supervisor, Andrew was the direct point-of-contact for family members, and ensured his team was completing the job in accordance to the family’s request, with respect to all OSHA and other state and federal regulations governing safety and proper biohazard remediation protocols.

Andrew has had an array of roles within Aftermath, including serving as project manager managing and overseeing jobs across the country, to taking his operations knowledge to work with the collections department. He shared his knowledge from the field to expand the departments’ communication skills when dealing with insurance adjusters.

Andrew now works in safety and compliance as Operations Safety/Compliance Manager. His main responsibilities include quality assurance, field and supervisor training, and research/development. He continues to evolve his skills and find different ways he can utilize his talents to best help Aftermath.

So you want to work in biohazard cleanup? Here’s what you need to know:

A career in biohazard cleanup is not for everyone. Working in this field means working around the never-ending cycle of life and death, and sometimes working around the clock. Every situation is completely unique and has its own challenges to solve. Employees in this field have to be uniquely suited to deal with the nature of a physically and emotionally demanding job.

“You need to be able to think on your feet,” Andrew said. “Anyone interested in a career in the biohazard remediation industry must be disciplined. There is a high level of responsibility associated with the job and completing the task efficiently and correctly.”

It Gets Physical

Biohazard cleanup requires extreme manual labor. It is by no means a glamorous job.

Field technicians work in potentially dangerous conditions, and must follow strict regulations from OSHA that require donning personal protective equipment (PPE) the entire duration of a cleanup job. This means wearing a special body suit, booties, several layers of gloves and a respirator at all times during the cleanup process.

Employees must often complete manual labor, including removing flooring and carpeting, all while wearing their PPE. Sometimes, employees encounter cleanup jobs in homes without air conditioning, and in the summer heat, this can be especially uncomfortable or even dangerous.

There will be Emotions

Aside from the physical demands of the job, the emotional aspect is equally, if not more, demanding. A professional in this industry must be able to express empathy without focusing on the negative. Although supervisors are responsible for the direct communication with family members of a victim, field technicians often witness the family in an emotionally distraught state, and are compelled to help in any way possible. However, it is vital that employees focus solely on the task at hand, with respect to helping the family.

Andrew says that from his experience, he has seen it is harder for most people to get used to the emotional side of the job than the actual scenes.

“Seeing families in their time of need can be harder to deal with than the actual scene. Employees need to focus on the task at hand to truly be effective in helping the family. You could put a client in jeopardy if you make a call based on bad judgment or emotion,” Andrew said.

This is not CSI

Andrew says one of the most common misconceptions people have is associating Aftermath’s services with investigation. Aftermath comes in after investigators and law enforcement is gone, and their focus is on remediating damage and ensuring health risks associated with blood borne pathogens are eliminated.

“We are here to solely serve the family. We do absolutely nothing regarding investigation. We’re here to erase crime scenes, not solve crimes,” Andrew said.

Expect the unexpected

“There really is no typical day,” Andrew said, “There are always exceptions that come up, which is why it is important to know what takes precedence.”

For Andrew, a “normal” day consists of working on training curriculum. He is constantly training field staff, and travels quite a bit. Percentage wise, about 30-40 percent of his time per year is spent traveling.

“It goes in spurts,” Andrew said. “Over a six-week period, I was in nine different cities.”

Odd hours

Dedication is a vital skill needed to keep a career in the biohazard cleanup industry. Death has no regard for holidays, bad weather or time of day. Working in this industry means odd hours, travel and client communication. Employees must be willing to be readily available if needed.

Andrew laughed, “I was up until midnight the night before this interview answering calls and emails. Death does not operate on a nine-to-five schedule.”

So you still want to work in biohazard cleanup? Awesome! Here’s why Andrew loves his job:

Andrew has been working in the biohazard cleanup industry for three years, and is still driven by new and inventive products, technology and the major strides the industry is making.

“There are a lot of changes happening in industry, and although Aftermath is, and has been, the industry leader, they are continually motivated to step up their game and keep raising the bar. We know that everything we do can be done better, and that’s why we continue to improve on every level,” Andrew said.

Andrew’s favorite part of his job is the gratifying feeling he gets knowing he has helped people in one of the most difficult times of their life.

“When we [Aftermath] show up, people are emotionally shocked and often shut down,” Andrew said. “But, knowing the work we’ve done has helped someone in their darkest time, the feeling I get is not even close to a simple pat on the back. It’s really not something I can describe in words.”

Although a job in this industry is demanding both physically and mentally, for those who thrive on challenge and helping those in their time of need, this might be the ideal industry to build a career.

We are always accepting employment inquiries. Learn more about a career at Aftermath.