Abatement & Remediation Contractors Over Traditional Cleaning Services in the Covid-19 Pandemic

As traditional 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 from home or learning from home, as well as commercial building owners who are seeking peace of mind in regard to 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 amid this global pandemic, think regularly scheduled commercial and residential cleaning to aid in overall building cleanliness, there is no question that that should be the extent of their role with this viral disease. It is incontestable that in the event of a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 contamination, the services of an environmental abatement or remediation contractor should be sought out to provide cleaning and disinfecting services; not a commercial or residential cleaning service. This is beyond dispute for a litany of reasons. To begin with, abatement and remediation contractors have extensive experience navigating environmental insurance and bonding markets. Most contractors that occupy a remediation or abatement space already carry coverage for asbestos, lead, mold, and sewage response work; therefore, acquiring additional policy enhancements for infectious and communicable diseases can be done with little to no effort or exploration of an unfamiliar insurance market. Compare this to a commercial and residential cleaning service. Most states don’t require cleaning services of this nature to have a trade license or insurance unless they are working with local governments. Therefore, many clients will be left unprotected in the event that they chose to hire 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 the case of inadequate cleaning and disinfecting procedures, or worse, an exposure event

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 in the event that the cleaning service fails to live up to and deliver on its contract. This exacerbates the damage that can be done to clients by uninsured cleaning companies as clients are left with little to no recourse or protection outside of the legal system in the event they must seek compensation. Comparatively, almost all environmental abatement and remediation contractors have been required to seek out surety bonding for certain projects and understand how to navigate this market space. Many have been through the 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 to their clients is immeasurable and cannot be understated. Clients should undoubtedly seek the professional services of insured and bonded abatement and remediation companies as they will provide the financial security and project completion assurance clients need in these uncertain times.

Additionally, the environmental abatement and remediation industry also provides clients with a level of professional expertise in interpreting and applying the many various local, state, and federal guidelines regarding COVID-19 cleaning that cannot be matched by commercial and residential cleaning companies. This broad experience supplied by abatement and remediation contractors in interpreting the dense, technocratic prose so often employed within government regulations and guidelines is critical. Take as a minor example the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) request that individuals involved in COVID-19 clean-up use N-95 respirators to protect their respiratory health. While this may appear on the surface to be a simple request, easily complied with, nothing could be further from the truth. In order to comply with this CDC guideline, companies will notice that 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, how the General Industry Standard and the Construction Standard converge as it relates to respiratory protection, and how to interpret the
opaque, technical language found within it. While there are undoubtedly smart, consummate professionals found throughout the commercial and residential cleaning industry, can clients truly expect the cleaning services industry as a whole to adequately acquire the interpretive, analytical experience and skills already had within the abatement and remediation industry? It is doubtful that an industry that has most likely never had to understand the requirements surrounding a filtering facepiece, 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 as 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 regulated space that they exist within regarding asbestos, lead, mold, grey water, and black water, among other hazards, demands a high level of certainty, understanding, and technical application. Simultaneously understanding and applying a 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 perpetual and leads to a better, more adequate understanding of the additional government guidelines and regulations surrounding COVID-19 contamination. As a
result, clients can expect an exceedingly higher level of interpretive skill and application of government guidelines from abatement and remediation contractors, which they cannot expect from commercial and residential cleaning companies. Using the appropriate remediation professionals will not only afford clients the assurances they need regarding the cleaning and disinfection of their buildings from COVID-19 but will also provide them the ability to issue these same assurances to their building occupants.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, clients seeking COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection should unquestionably hire abatement and remediation professionals due to the breadth and depth of experience they have in addressing and responding to the clean-up of hazardous materials. This experience and technical expertise is unmatched by few industries and certainly cannot be matched by the commercial and residential cleaning services industry. The consistency and focus required in order to apply a hazardous materials abatement or remediation work plan safely and compliantly cannot simply be replicated. It requires years of repetitive, specialized training, in addition to extensive pragmatic on-site application. For instance, without proper training and experience in the real world application of OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030), how would the employees of a cleaning service understand that whenever they encounter bodily fluids such as spit or mucous on a COVID-19 clean-up job, that OSHA regulations require that they take additional precautions to avoid creating splashes, sprays, or splatters? Without the proper training or experience required, these employees would certainly continue to clean and disinfect, despite the presence of spit or mucous, spraying cleaning agents directly on infected surfaces and spread, not reduce the COVID-19 hazard. These actions 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 these same individuals use chemical cleaning and disinfecting agents; as it is also improbable that they will have received training in both OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) and their Hazardous Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Without proper, repetitive training and experience, how could these same employees possibly know that many of the EPA approved chemicals and disinfectants required to be used when combating COVID-19 require chemical cartridges and an upgrade in respiratory protection from an N-95 filtering facepiece? The simple answer is they wouldn’t. And 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 a mere six months ago were engaged in elementary commercial and residential cleaning services, but rather abatement and remediation contractors with extensive training and experience in creating and carrying out specialized, technical work plans designed explicitly for the removal and remediation of hazardous materials. Those clients that chose to hire uninsured, untrained and inexperienced commercial and residential cleaning companies instead of the trained, experienced professionals within the abatement and remediation industry expose themselves to an increase of risk and financial liability that poses perhaps a greater threat to their livelihood 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 over 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 of Liberal Arts in History and a Master of Liberal Arts in Education.

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