Handling Decomposition Clean up After an Unattended Death

An unattended death is defined as one that occurs when a person is alone, and the passing is not immediately discovered. In fact, days, weeks, or even longer can pass before the remains of a person who died an unattended death are discovered.

In this type of situation, the process of decomposition cleanup after an unattended death is potentially dangerous and daunting. The particular challenges and potential risks associated with decomposition cleanup after an unattended death requires serious consideration of retaining the services of a professional biohazard remediation service.

Understanding Decomposition

Before you appreciate what is involved in handling decomposition cleanup after an unattended death, you need to understand the science behind human decomposition. When a person dies, bacteria living inside the body start to break down organs and tissues. This process begins in earnest in the intestines and pancreas. Once these organs have been broken down, bacteria spread throughout the body in what fairly can be described as being an explosive manner.

Decomposition occurs in five basic stages:

  • Initial stage
  • Bacterial bloat
  • Active decay
  • Advanced decay
  • Dry Bones

In the case of an unattended death, the remains of the deceased person oftentimes aren’t discovered until the body is in the active decay stage or beyond. By the time the body is at this stage, dangerous pathogens have been released from the body in liquid, solids, and gases. In other words, the site of unattended death has become hazardous as a result of the decomposition process.

Understanding Biohazards

Biohazards include pathogenic microorganisms that present a potentially serious health risk to individuals and harm to the environment at large. Biohazards are prevalent as a result of the decomposition process, as had been discussed. However, even absent the onset of decomposition, an individual may have biohazardous pathogens in his or her system. These can exist as the result of a bloodborne disease of other conditions in or on an individual’s body. These pathogens can spread through contact with blood and other bodily fluids.

Personal Protective Equipment and Decomposition Cleanup

A crucial element associated with handling decomposition cleanup after an unattended death is utilizing appropriate personal protective equipment. The essential elements of mandatory personal protective equipment include:

  • Disposable gloves
  • Mask
  • Apron, uniform, or smock
  • Goggles

Depending on the situation, disposable shoe covers and head covering may also be advisable.

Discovery of Unattended Death

On some level, the decomposition cleanup process commences the moment an unattended death is discovered. By that it is meant directly at that moment, the person who discovered the remains of a deceased individual must start utilizing protective practices associated with exposure to biohazardous material.

The reality is that the individual who discovers the remains will be able to quickly ascertain that he or she is in the presence of a deceased individual if the death occurred more than a couple of days prior. As was mentioned previously, it is more likely that the discovery will be made further into the decomposition process.

As a result, harmful pathogens will have already been released from the body. Thus, it is vital that the person who discovered the remains depart from the immediate death seen and call 911. Keep others away from the death scene as well. Law enforcement and emergency medical personnel will come to the location of the remains.

The most likely causes of an unattended death include:

  • Accident
  • Illness or disease
  • Suicide
  • Homicide

The suspected cause of death dictates what happens next. If a homicide is suspected, the person with initial responsibility for cleanup will not be able to start the process immediately. Investigators from law enforcement, the coroner’s office, or the DA’s office will need to do their work before releasing the premises for decomposition cleanup.

The Specific Stages of Decomposition Clean up After an Unattended Death

An untrained property owner or family member should not undertake a decomposition cleanup after an unattended death. Rather, a professional biohazard remediation service should be engaged. Moreover, if a loved one was lost in this manner, enduring the emotional trauma of this type of cleanup is not advisable.

The cleanup process should start as quickly as possible. The biological discharges associated with decomposition can cause permanent damage to the premises. Starting the remediation process as promptly as possible aids in reducing the overall damage to the premises.

The stages of the decomposition cleanup process after an unattended death are:

  • Initial cleanup (removal of biohazardous wastes from the scene)
  • Sanitization (completely eliminating hazardous microorganisms from the scene using medical grade chemicals)
  • Deodorization (eliminating odors associated with decomposition using commercial deodorizing agents)
  • Restoration (returning the premises to a habitable or useable state)