Services & Maintenance: Interior Pest Prevention

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By Judy Black, M.S., B.C.E.
Published in the September 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The key to managing pest infestations in a facility is to stop them before they start. Pests can take advantage of a wide variety of changes in environment and climate. Preventing them from gaining a foothold in a facility includes thoroughly reviewing areas that may not ordinarily be associated with pest issues.

Additionally, pest prevention requires partnering with a service provider who will take a holistic approach, addressing all the concerns that can lead to infestations. An effective partnership also requires facility managers and staff to be proactive.

Common Pests

Some of the most common pests are cockroaches and rodents. Cockroaches have been shown to transport disease causing organisms on their bodies.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, allergens from cockroaches can trigger asthma. This condition causes shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and excessive coughing.

Signs of cockroach infestation can include brownish-black fecal smears on surfaces, the presence of live or dead insects, and a distinct acrid odor if infestation is especially heavy. Be sure to keep an eye out for these signs and notify the technician as soon as possible if any are present.

Rodents can transmit disease to humans through airborne particles of their urine, saliva, droppings, or remains. Certain species of mice are responsible for transmitting a potentially serious disease called hantavirus, which can cause dizziness, nausea, fatigue, dry cough, headaches, and, in some cases, respiratory failure. Previously a health problem confined to the Southwest, hantavirus has now been identified in several states in the Midwest and the Northeast. As of early May 2005, 32 states had reported a total of nearly 400 cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control since the hantavirus was first identified.

Rodents tend to gnaw cardboard boxes, packaged goods, wallboards, wood, plaster, and electrical wiring. Other signs that a facility may have a rodent infestation include scampering sounds behind the walls, the presence of rodent droppings, footprints or trails, greasy rub marks and smears on walls, and the presence of live or dead pests.

Other pests that can pose a health threat are fire ants. Colder weather limits their spread, but due to the mild winters experienced in some areas during 2004, fire ants have spread northward. They now infest at least 13 southern and western states and have been reported as far north as Maryland and Ohio.

Most healthy adults can tolerate stings from fire ants. However, some people can have severe allergic reactions. For these people, any fire ant attack can be potentially lethal.

Ants do not leave many signs of their presence. However, if even one or two ants are spotted in the facility, it is prudent to have a pest prevention provider come in to inspect the situation.

At Your Service

Choosing the right service provider is critical to the effectiveness of any pest prevention program. Facility managers can visit the National Pest Management Association Web site (www.pestworld.org) for a list of professionals recommended by the association.

Once a firm is located, facility managers should do some further research. It is important to hire licensed, certified, and highly trained professionals. A pest prevention professional should arrive in uniform, carry an identification badge, and wear protective clothing or equipment as appropriate.

Technicians should also be able to describe their level of training and knowledge and provide copies of their license and certification, if requested. Training can include continuing education coursework and support from on staff Board Certified Entomologists and other technical personnel.

It is also important to make sure the company has not been fined by its state pesticide regulatory board, which is usually part of the Department of Agriculture. Contact information for state Departments of Agriculture can often be found in the local blue pages or at state Web sites, usually www.state.[state abbreviation].us. (For example, those who live in Virginia should visit www.state.va.us.)

A pest prevention firm should know the guidelines of the different third-party auditors and use a reporting system that meets appropriate auditor requirements.

Pest prevention methods have evolved as more has been learned about pest biology, pesticide resistance, and aversion. Spraying and fogging no longer have to be the primary foundations of a comprehensive pest management program. Rather, modern programs are built around a variety of complementary tactics such as early detection of insect pests through monitoring, thorough inspection to detect harborage sites, targeted treatments that pose little risk to the environment or people, and structural repairs that keep invasive pests from entering the facility.

Above all, modern pest prevention programs rely on a strong partnership and communication between the client and technician. The level of communication between the facility management contact and a pest management technician is often indicative of a successful program. Reporting, documentation, and one-on-one contact from the pest management professional are important components. Reports should include details of the service, note any chemicals applied, list opportunities for improvement, and provide detailed sanitation and structural recommendations.

Documentation at the facility should include copies of any reports, material safety data sheets (MSDS) on products currently being used at the facility, maps of service areas, and any other pertinent information. Facility managers can also ask a potential service provider for a proposal detailing the pest management operating procedures, frequency of visits, response times, applicable guarantees, types and quality of service reporting, and, above all, information verifying the company knows what it takes to eliminate pests.

The Whole Picture

For a pest management program to be successful, facility managers must understand what is required in terms of sanitation, operational procedures, and structural repairs. Once the role of each partner in the program has been established, they can assist one another in eliminating the conditions that can enable pests to become established in the first place.

Pests of all types are attracted by the availability of food, water, and harborage sources. One of the biggest culprits for attracting pests is standing water. Facility managers should have leaky faucets repaired, re-examine the landscaping of the facility, ensure that automatic irrigation systems are not overwatering, make sure any water that could accumulate has run-off drainage, and remove any vegetation that calls for excessive watering. Downspouts can also be a problem, so these should be checked for proper drainage.

The Bottom Line

Once pests are entrenched in a facility, the resulting damage may not only be to property but also to occupant health. A pest program can be considered a partnership in which everyone potentially affected is responsible for working to prevent pests. This helps facility managers to ensure program success and to play an integral role in the ultimate success of the organization.

Black is a board certified entomologist and technical director of The Steritech Group, Inc. in Charlotte, NC, a provider of pest management services and a leader in EcoSensitive® Pest Prevention programs. For more information, visit www.steritech.com.

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