Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Bugging out over pest infestation?

September 19, 2010

Facility maintenance managers are often expected to wear many hats every day, juggling multiple responsibilities including: Equipment repair, maintenance, cleaning services, and managing supply inventories.

But in recent years, this role has evolved into that of public health defender, as it relates to the individuals who live and work in the facilities they maintain.

Many pests pose health threats to individuals who unknowingly work and live among them, which makes controlling them — as well as the method of control — critical.

Because pest infestations have very real effects on those around them, facility maintenance staff should know:

  • Which pests pose the most danger
  • Which pest control standards apply to their situation
  • The best options for control
  • How to work effectively with a pest management professional (PMP)
A caution about cockroaches

Cockroaches are more than just a nuisance. These common facility pests are known to spread infectious germs, emit human allergens, and exacerbate asthmatic symptoms — particularly in children and elderly living in inner cities.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers from the University of Texas detailed findings of allergen level studies in large geographic markets, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Seattle, and Tucson, AZ.

Research indicated that individuals who live in high-rise buildings are more likely to suffer worsened asthma attacks due to cockroaches than as the result of other common facility pests.

Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and other scientific journals report similar correlations.

Cockroaches produce human allergens that are stored in their droppings and molted skins (exoskeletons).

Furthermore, cockroaches are known to spread more than 40 human disease-causing agents through germs picked up on their legs and body as they crawl through waste sites and other unsanitary conditions.

When the ants go marching in

Cockroaches are not a facility''s only problem. As more effective strategies to control cockroaches have emerged, ants have become a more common problem for facilities — specifically in kitchens.

Although there are more than 12,000 species of ants worldwide, they all share one characteristic — they invade in numbers large enough to make you sick.

Most indoor ants feed on sticky, sweet substances — such as melon residue, spilled soda — or unwanted food left stuck on dishes, but their presence is not limited to kitchen areas alone.

Ants often invade from outdoor nests and can emerge from bathrooms, garbage areas, and basements.

Facility managers should expect peak ant infestations during the warmer months of spring and summer when workers forage for food; although infestations can occur year-round.

Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a holistic approach to pest control that incorporates a range of pest management strategies, with an emphasis on the judicial use of insecticides.

It demands that pest control be sensitive toward the environment and time of application, and incorporate advance notice or evacuation of individuals on site.

Most often applied to school districts, some industry trends indicate that IPM is on the rise in other environments.

For example, in Maine, the state board of pest control is currently considering expanding required IPM practices to office buildings, apartment high-rises, and other highly populated sites.

The Chicago Housing Authority executed a successful IPM program through education, modifying its structures, and using chemical and non-chemical control techniques.

Recent studies by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), showed that a combination of chemical and non-chemical control measures results in effective, long-term pest control.

While it can be tempting as a quick fix to suppress pest populations, spraying aerosols or fogging a room is not always the proper solution for all pest infestations.

Other pest control methods, such as baits, last longer, are more effective, and won''t interfere with daily operations.

Baits are an integral part of an IPM plan because they rely on low doses of chemical contacted directly by each individual pest, without broadcasting chemicals.

Daily steps toward IPM

While techniques and strategies may vary, controlling ants and cockroaches depends largely on knowledge about the biology and behavior of each targeted pest.

An IPM plan does not include pest control measures alone; it requires proactive involvement on the part of a facility manager to eliminate conditions conducive to attracting pests.

Successful IPM programs integrate the effective use of chemical and non-chemical techniques for sanitation, trapping, vacuuming, and sealing entry points.

The fundamental approach to ant and cockroach control is sanitation and cleanliness.

For example, to avoid infestations of cockroaches and ants, keep areas mopped and dry, dispose of food scraps, and keep countertops free of food residue.

Be mindful of residual odors from pots and pans that may be in food handling areas, as they may attract pests.

Keep a close eye on floor drains, which are prime entryways for roaches.

In order to defend this point of entry from insects, remove the cover plate and clean inside the drain to sanitize it.

In some cases, a pesticide will be required to eradicate drain pests (such as cockroaches and flies) and prevent them from reoccurring.

A waterproof dust approved for use in food-handling establishments would be a good option for controlling pests in this area.

Besides keeping a clean atmosphere, seal off other entryways, e.g., cracks and crevices in walls, windows, doors, etc.

Also, be sure to inspect incoming inventory shipments for pests, and rotate stock on a first-in, first-out basis.

Don''t forget about the building occupants — they are a key component to the prevention of a pest problem.

Crumbs and spilled drinks at desks are a huge part of the problem.

Promote the importance of keeping desk areas clean and leave cleaning supplies in a common area so everyone can facilitate pest prevention.

Depend on a professional

Rather than tackling a particularly difficult pest problem on their own, facility maintenance staff should consider the benefits of working with a PMP.

First, many pest control companies employ an on-site entomologist, who can be a key resource in identifying a particular pest and explaining its nature so preventative measures can be taken on a daily basis.

Second, professionals have been trained to manage pest infestation situations with sensitivity toward the individuals who use the facility and the surrounding environment.

They can properly recommend the right treatment for a specific type of pest infestation — one that will be the least invasive to daily operations as it relates to application, odor and efficacy.

In addition to being pest experts, quality PMPs carry the proper licensing and liability insurance.

What may begin as a cost-saving strategy to keep pest control work in-house could result in additional costs to remedy a treatment gone wrong and additional liability.

Furthermore, the relationships they have with manufacturers help to ensure that all available resources will be tapped to manage the pest problem.

How to find the right PMP

The first step to hiring a quality pest management company is to verify that its proprietor is licensed by the state to provide pest management.

For additional insight into the business, consider asking the company for references or checking its status with the local Better Business Bureau.

Also, check to see if your PMP is a member of their local or state pest management association.

Once you''ve selected a provider, accompany the PMP on his or her inspection of the facility so that he or she can explain which pests are causing a problem, answer your questions, and explain the proposed method of treatment.

Be sure to ask about recommended products and any warranties or guarantees of efficacy they carry.

While the PMP is on site, ask about the benefits of a regular service contract, which can go a long way toward preventing pest infestations.

An investment in regular pest management helps to improve the overall sanitation and public health of a facility.

Dr. Nonggang Bao is a biology manager for the Professional Pest Control division of Bayer Environmental Science, Research Triangle Park, NC.