Biohazards can be any material which may infect and harm people or animals through exposure. The most common example of a scenario where biohazard decontamination is needed is a crime scene. Crime scenes can have all manner of contaminants that count as biohazards, from human and animal remains, to blood, bodily fluids, sharps, and more. When the police have concluded their work, the entire area needs to not only be cleaned but completely disinfected and decontaminated before it is declared safe for use.
Examples of Biohazards
Biohazards can be found just about anywhere. We actually face biohazards in our day to day lives. Even the human sneeze could be seen as a biohazard due to the potential for spreading disease — especially in the modern era of COVID-19. Here are some of the common types of biohazard that cleanup crews deal with:
Human Blood/Blood Products (including items which have been contaminated by blood flow)
Animal Waste: Including carcasses, bedding material, and fecal matter
Human Fluids: Including, semen, spinal fluid, pleural fluid, sexual secretions, urine, fecal matter, and sputum.
Laboratory Waste (Microbiological): Including cultures, equipment, and devices
Pathological Waste: Human tissues, anatomy from after an autopsy
Sharps: Including needles, glass slides, IV needles, and scalpels.
Decontamination can be measured on a scale, from simple household cleaning using soap and warm water, to heavy-duty decontamination methods such as liquid chemicals. The different types of decontamination are as follows:
Sterilization: This uses a chemical procedure to eradicate all microbial activity.
Disinfection: This involves the use of liquid chemicals and is able to eradicate all pathogens apart from bacterial spores. It can be used on a variety of surfaces, and the level of success is highly dependent on external factors such as the object, the number of bacteria, and the concentration of chemicals used.
Antisepsis: This involves applying a liquid chemical to living tissues such as skin to remove microorganisms. This includes everything from swabbing the skin before an injection, to washing your hands with soap.
Cleaning: Cleaning uses three things, water, detergent, and mechanical action (i.e. scrubbing) to remove material. It is usually used as a prerequisite for sterilization/disinfection, because it helps to reduce the number of contaminants on an object, meaning that total removal is much more likely.
The Decontamination Process
Decontaminating a space requires several steps. Firstly the area is assessed, which allows the team to don the necessary protective equipment and select the right tools and solutions to make the space sanitary.
Next, major areas of contamination are removed. This commonly includes fabric materials that have come into contact with contaminants such as blood, as they cannot be safely cleaned and need to be incinerated. Biological matter is also removed at this stage.
Next the area will be cleaned to help cut down on culture numbers before decontamination and/or sterilization can take place. Once the area has been decontaminated it can then be deodorized if needed.
After the crew leave, they also need to decontaminate any tools or equipment which has come into contact with the space. Some antisepsis is also likely to be undertaken to reduce the risk to the biohazard technicians.