Containment: An Important First Step in Restoration
As a newcomer to the restoration and remediation industry, you quickly learn that remediation gets rid of the bad stuff while restoration replaces the good stuff. But often, little mention is given to the first part of the disaster relief team – containment. Yet, proper protocol says to first contain, then remediate and restore.
So what is containment and why is it important? Specifically, containment is preventing something from escaping. The restoration professional is likely to encounter substances like mold, microbials (naturally occurring micro-organisms), toxin-producing pathogens, friable lead and asbestos. Most of these toxins are very small and can easily hitch a ride on normal air currents found in most buildings. Without containing these potentially toxic substances, at the source and within a confined area, they are likely to end up creating a significantly larger mess than first encountered and quickly saturate the air being inhaled by workers, homeowners and occupants of the affected buildings.
The Value of Effective Containment
For the homeowner:
- Lessened health consequence
- Less likely to be displaced
- Shorter restoration time
- Less property damage
- No lost income
For the lessor:
- Reduced liability
- No loss of rental income
- Lower repair costs
- Property not devalued
For the insurer:
- Lower liability
- Reduced A.L.E.s
- Lower cost of restoration
- Quicker repair times
For the restoration company:
- Showing you care drives sales
- Helps manage work load
- Lowers risks to employees
- Lessens liability
- Allows for faster turn times
- Provides visible proof-of-work
- May minimize re-clean, re-test
Within the protocols we use, there should be a very high value on containment because it alone has the ability to prevent further damage to health and property. It keeps a bad situation from getting worse. It puts a lid on it. Everything else addresses the aftermath.
Containment is typically broken into two types: source and area containment.
In talking about source containment, I often use the example of a broken water pipe. With water spewing everywhere, nobody in their right mind would even think about fixing and cleaning up the mess until the water valve was turned off first. That is source containment.
For area containment, think of a quarantine room where someone sick is isolated. The point is not necessarily to keep the person inside, but to keep the pathogens contained and from escaping.
In the first example, the water is quite visible. In the second, the pathogen is microscopic – invisible. This cloak of invisibility is probably the main reason some professionals don’t take containment so seriously. It is the perception that if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
But it does exist. And in the case of some molds, just a slight breeze or vibration and they go into survival mode – spewing hundreds times more spores into the air. Without proper containment, the cost of the loss can increase dramatically. But it seems to me the greater cost is in the potential health issues by carelessly allowing cross contamination. According to industry expert Michael A. Pinto of Wonder Makers Environmental, “Medical research continues to tie exposure (to toxins) to significant health effects.”
Reducing the impact of tiny invisible airborne contaminants is exactly why containment is a valuable part of the protocol.
If you will, picture each part of the mold protocol being a person, a specialist in charge of part of the disaster medical team. You would have a first responder (containment), a surgeon (remediation) and a physical therapist (restoration). Each is tasked with a special function. The first responder stops the bleeding and gets the patient to the surgeon, who cuts away the damaged tissue and does the necessary surgery. The physical therapist gets the body working right again.
Let’s continue by considering a real medical containment scenario – the Ebola virus. World health experts know how critical it is to contain this deadly virus. Anyone who might come into contact with Ebola knows the likelihood of survival is slim. To prevent any direct contact with Ebola, rigid environmental controls are put into place including the use of personal protective clothing, decontamination rooms and a buddy system for removing clothing. In the event of a containment breach, quarantine quarters are mandated for 40 days. With few cures, the focus must be on effective containment.
Granted the Ebola illustration is an extreme circumstance, nonetheless, preparedness for everyday “disasters” means having the right tools on hand, being up-to-date on best practices for doing source and area containment and being ready from the first moment you address the problem to respond in a way that reduces the health risks and property loss.
It is very encouraging to observe the growing interest in effective containment. As the above list shows, stopping toxins in their tracks benefits everyone in the mix.
It is not uncommon to hear concern about reduced cleaning revenue due to better containment, but omitting something to jack up income is just unethical and shortsighted. Don’t do it ever! Not only is great containment going to endear you to your customer (future referrals) but the insurer and adjuster will appreciate that you prevented displacement which can cost them thousands of dollars.
As a restoration professional, containing the site should be of utmost concern for you and your employees. A safer work site always benefits the worker and the employer. Think lower workers compensation costs and liability costs.
By effectively reducing the volume of mold spores by the use of source containment, testing is more likely to pass the first time out – reducing the cost of re-cleaning and testing a second time. The same holds true for effective area containment.
While on this subject, the sequence of source containment and then area containment is important. By securing the site rapidly with source containment, you are avoiding mass propagation of mold spores while erecting area containment. There has already been some level of cross contamination prior to your arrival that will be addressed during remediation. Also, do not make the mistake of only source containment, as what’s behind the moldy surface will need to be contained when the wall is opened up. Don’t skip steps in protocol.
I’ll end with this thought. Be prepared, be alert and contain the problem as if someone’s life depended on it – as it very well may.
by Scot LaVelle