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Classifying Disaster Cleanup and Restoration Operations

February 9, 2022

California continues to experience major wildfires that are damaging and destructive to private homes and other buildings and structures. The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California (WCIRB) regularly receives questions regarding the classifications applicable to the cleanup and restoration operations that follow these disasters.

When classifying an employer that engages in disaster cleanup and restoration operations, several classifications are potentially applicable, based on the scope of the employer’s operations. These employers specialize in the initial cleanup and final restoration and reconstruction at sites where fire or flood damage has occurred.

First Response Cleanup
Immediately following a flood or fire disaster, employees will work at the disaster site to conduct cleanup and mitigate water damage to the structure, if possible. Water damage may occur due to firefighting or a burst pipe, blocked sewer line or similar problem. Employees are dispatched to customers' locations on a rush basis to extract water from carpets and remove soot and smoke residue from furniture, walls and ceiling surfaces and fixtures. Carpets may be removed, if necessary, to facilitate cleaning and drying. Debris is picked up and thrown away. Furniture and other contents may be removed for off-site restoration and cleanup. Dehumidifiers and fans are set up to minimize moisture damage to the site. These cleaning and water extraction operations are classified as 9008, Janitorial Services, regardless of whether a commercial or residential structure is being cleaned. The off-site cleaning of furniture and other items removed from the site is also assigned to Classification 9008. This classification directs that it applies to exterior post-construction cleanup; fire, smoke and water damage cleanup; or window cleaning when performed as a specialty operation. While these initial services are provided to customers on a rush basis to minimize extent of the damage, the dehumidifiers may be monitored for several days or weeks until all excess moisture is removed, and residual cleaning operations may extend over several days or weeks.

In cases where structures have been completely destroyed and the operation is limited to debris cleanup because there is no demolition required, Classification 9008 also applies.

Restoration and Reconstruction
Many structures may have sustained significant fire, smoke or water damage, but were not destroyed and can be restored. Once the site is clear of debris caused by the disaster and the moisture level is normal, the construction operations needed to restore the structure can begin. Some fire, smoke or water damage cleanup operations may require minor tear out of existing construction material in order to clean or dry out damaged portions of the building – for example, the removal of damaged carpet or damaged portions of wallboard in connection with drying and cleanup operations. If the tear out is in connection with the disaster cleanup operations, these operations are assignable to Classification 9008, Janitorial Services.

However, any deconstruction or removal of existing construction materials – including but not limited to wallboard, floor coverings, wall framing, electrical work or plumbing fixtures in connection with reconstruction, repair or remodeling operations where a building or structure is not razed or where a floor or exterior wall is not removed – is assigned to the applicable Construction or Erection classification based on the California Workers' Compensation Uniform Statistical Reporting Plan—1995 (USRP) provisions at Part 3, Section IV, Rule 2, Construction or Erection Work. For example, the removal of wallboard is classified as 5446/5447, Wallboard Application; the removal of a suspended ceiling is classified as 5020, Ceiling Installation; and the removal of plumbing fixtures is classified as 5183(1)/5187(1), Plumbing.

In some cases, the structure may not be completely destroyed, but some or all of the structure must be demolished. These operations may be performed by the same employer that performed first response cleanup, or they may be performed by separate construction contractors. For any wrecking or demolition work where a building or structure is razed or where a floor or exterior wall is removed, all operations at the wrecking or demolition site – including welding or cutting, breaking up concrete foundations, sidewalks or floor slabs, and removing or loading debris – shall be classified based on the USRP provisions at Part 3, Section IV, Rule 7a, Wrecking or Demolition and Building Raising or Moving.

At job sites that do not meet the requirements of Rule 7a, the operations are classified based on the USRP provisions found at Section IV, Special Industry Classification Procedures, Rule 2, Construction or Erection Work. This rule states, in pertinent part:

"Division of payroll shall be made for each separate and distinct type of construction or erection operation that is specifically described by a classification, provided separate records of payroll are maintained and provided the use of any such classification in connection with a separate job or location is not restricted by classification phraseology or footnotes.”

Additional Operations
It is common for employers that perform first response cleanup operations in connection with disaster sites to also perform cleaning operations that do not pertain to disaster sites. These cleaning services are classified based on the scope of operations performed at each site. Common examples of additional non-emergency cleaning operations include carpet or upholstery cleaning on a stand-alone basis (assign Classification 2584, Carpet, Rug or Upholstery Cleaning), residential cleaning services (assign Classification 9096, Residential Cleaning Services) and commercial janitorial services including incidental carpet cleaning (assign Classification 9008, Janitorial Services).

View the complete classification phraseology and footnotes for each classification mentioned in this article using the Classification Search tool in the Learning Center of or through the following links:

Related Information

California Workers' Compensation Uniform Statistical Reporting Plan—1995
Classification Information