This job's not sunshine and roses
The sentimentally optimistic film Sunshine Cleaning tells the tale of two impoverished sisters trying their luck and starting a forensic cleaning business, cleaning up the gore after deaths, murders and suicides.
The protagonists effectively fake it until they make it, learning as they go until they are overcome by disaster. In that sense – that training is required – and in the requirement for a strong stomach, the film is pretty accurate.
For two years, Auckland's Cleaning Systems has offered two crime and trauma scene cleaning courses, a four-hour cleanup course and a 10-hour course that includes training in methamphetamine-laboratory (P-lab) decontamination.
Technical and training manager Paul Pritchard, who said he had not seen the film, said there wasn't any other formal training in New Zealand. His company's niche as a specialist cleaning supplier, in areas such as smoke damage and hazardous cleaning, made it a natural to provide such courses.
Pritchard was instrumental in developing the courses and is a member of the industry training organisation for Building Services Contractors New Zealand (BSC) and helped draw up the unit standards for the industry.
Before, the nearest specialist training was in Melbourne, he said. There was clearly demand in New Zealand, but the job was suitable only for some people.
"It takes a special kind of person or personality type," he said. "It's about what you can see and smell and what you can handle at the time."
What a cleaner could handle varied, he said.
Recognising and managing such changes is taught on the course. In fact, managing the stress of the job is similar to managing post-traumatic stress.
"It's a hazard, definitely," Pritchard said.
"A critical part is making sure you meet health and safety requirements."
That, clearly, is also an issue during P-lab decontamination, where the variety of sites and uses is large. One day you could be dealing with a five-star hotel room and the next a caravan.
The challenges, procedures and levels of hazard exposure differ for each. Also covered are relevant laws and standards and the planning required for potential hazards, such as human remains, bulk hazardous materials, biohazards, including body tissue, blood and other bodily fluids, broken glass, "sharps" and other drug paraphernalia, unsecured weapons and potential booby traps left by perpetrators.
Pritchard said the courses were in demand, with staff being sent from large cleaning companies to gain specialist skills, from smaller specialist cleaning companies and even from organisations such as the police and councils.
The courses are also relevant to cleaning rest homes, hospitals, prisons and police holding cells.
The sisters in Sunshine Cleaning were clearly, at first, doing the job for the money, but the extra pay a cleaner can expect in New Zealand varies depending how they come to the course.
If they already work for a large commercial cleaner, they may not get much more, but forensic cleaning has to be voluntary. Those working for themselves or smaller specialist companies can, however, make quite high pay.
The four-hour course costs $175 plus GST, and the 10-hour course $4650 plus GST.
- © Fairfax NZ News