October 19, 2020
people in hazmat suits standing together

US Ecology and the Fight Against COVID-19

An Inside Look to what US Ecology is doing to protect our Workforce and Operations in Today’s World

On January 30th, US Ecology performed the country’s first decontamination response related to SARS-CoV-2 after being notified of a possible exposure to the contagion in an isolation room at a medical trauma center in Seattle, WA. On that same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the latest coronavirus outbreak an international threat to public health. However, detailed information was not yet readily available on the contagion and its characteristics, such as how it can spread, how long it can survive outside of a host or even the extent of its severity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had not yet released guidance on methodologies or effective disinfectants to ensure complete decontamination of exposed surfaces.

Dedicated to protecting the environment and communities we live in, US Ecology is accustomed to working with challenging and dangerous situations involving virtually all types of hazardous materials and biohazardous substances. Our personnel quickly adapted by utilizing expertise from performing biohazardous decontamination services across the country for over 30 years, quickly establishing internal operating guidelines and standard procedures based on past viral outbreaks including Ebola, H1N1 and MERS.

By early February, US Ecology response teams were implementing a progressive approach to prepare operations for the imminent surge of decontamination response work as the outbreak spread uncontrollably across the country. A multi-faceted COVID-19 Task Force – comprised of subject matter experts, experienced response professionals, regional and local operations managers, health and safety specialists, human resources and executive leadership – was established to closely monitor frequently evolving guidance from the CDC and regulatory orders from state and federal agencies and to adjust internal procedures as necessary to ensure the safety of our team members, customers and the communities we serve. Meeting every day from early February through May, this group was responsible for managing customer needs, resource availability and logistics, safety and operational training for personnel and ensuring that each response was performed safely, effectively and in conformance with US Ecology’s service quality standards.

Specific to operational readiness, our in-house Certified Industrial Hygienist and Biohazard Response Subject Matter Experts created COVID-19 specific guidance outlining key elements pertaining to decontamination and preventative cleaning, including:

  • Planning and assessment – zones
  • Activity Hazard Assessments (AHAs)
  • Minimum crew size
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Waste Transportation
  • PPE donning and doffing protocol
  • Approved disinfectants
  • Cleaning methodologies and procedures
  • Reporting / Communication
  • Waste Disposal

Rising to the challenge and joining the front line. As the volume of biohazardous decontamination work continued to spike, we also needed to maintain operational readiness for routine response callouts and everyday spills, as well as large scale emergencies (e.g. natural disasters, chemical or wildfires, mass volume hazardous releases, offshore oil spills, etc.) More than ever, it was imperative for US Ecology and newly acquired NRC Group of companies to expedite integration efforts and join together in this fight, sharing resources, personnel and equipment to maintain responsiveness to our customers when they need us most.

In March, commercial businesses and government agencies alike faced extraordinary challenges in effort to maintain operations while keeping their workforce and the general public safe. Granted Essential Critical Infrastructure designation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, US Ecology remained committed to the customers and communities we serve, demonstrated best by all of our team members and field crews who without hesitation joined the front line to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Maintaining Operational Readiness, Business Continuity and Service Quality Excellence. One of the key objectives of the COVID-19 Task Force groups was not only to ensure the safe and effective performance of decontamination services for our customers, but to implement protocols for each of US Ecology’s facilities to protect our own workforce and surrounding communities. As an extension of our Business Continuity Plans, detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Response Level Guidance was implemented companywide, along with a variety of measures put in place to minimize exposure and ensure continued operational readiness, including:

  • Leveraging remote support for administrative personnel
  • Staggering work shifts to minimize employee-to-employee exposure
  • Establishing position backfill and cross-training to cover critical positions in the event of employee absenteeism
  • Developing communications plans to keep customers informed of impacts
  • Verifying that key elements of our supply chain are intact with appropriate quality and redundancy

Guidance provided by the COVID-19 specific SOPs implemented at all US Ecology locations covered topics including, but not limited to:

  • Level 1-3 Response Plansoutlining actions to protect employees from a widespread outbreak, additional guidance for offices/facilities with higher potential risk for virus transmission and business interruption, and how to respond in the event a presumptive or confirmed exposure is identified at one of US Ecology’s sites or offices
  • Commercial Driver Response Plans and guidance for all US Ecology drivers dispatching from facilities listed in the Applicability Section of the plan, describing how drivers will prepare for and respond to COVID-19 during their routes
  • Facility visitor instructions
  • Facility biohazard decontamination and disinfectant solutions
  • Management of COVID-19 waste
  • Return to Work Guidance
  • Site Specific Business Continuity Plans that focused on defining operations contingency and staff coverage planning to ensure our facilities continue to operate safely during times of crisis or duress

 

To enlist US Ecology's COVID-19 services please call our 24/7 the Emergency Response hotline at (800) 899-4672, contact your sales representative or visit https://www.usecology.com/contact-us.