By Jim Fredericks, Ph.D. and Cindy Mannes
From the July/August 2016 Issue
Facility managers are often considered a jack of all trades, as they are responsible for maintaining the quality of a building and ensuring the safety of employees, patrons, and other occupants on a daily basis—all while adhering to budgetary restraints. This often results in pest control efforts being placed toward the bottom of the to-do list, done on a shoestring budget, or even forgotten altogether. However, given the considerable consequences of an infestation, facility managers must be prepared to take action at the first sign of a pest problem.
Once inside, pests pose serious health and safety threats with the potential to contaminate food, spread dangerous diseases, and cause extensive structural damage to a building. In order to mitigate these threats in an effective and timely manner, facility managers should work with a licensed pest management company to develop a comprehensive pest management program consisting of preventive treatments, monitoring, regular inspections, and a set of procedures should the facility face an infestation.
In an office environment, for instance, there may be a large number of people in the building for extended periods of time, which compromises facility access. When developing a pest management program, the schedules or office hours of occupants need to be taken into consideration. Even when offices are closed, there may be sensitive areas or areas with limited or no access, which can impact the type and success of pest services provided. It is important that these areas are identified and assessed to determine what risk exists if they are not serviced.
Retail establishments often have similar concerns in terms of operating hours and access. That said, there are differentiating factors with retail, such as where products are made, stored, and transported from; amount of foot traffic through the building; and rate of product turnover.
As retail products may be delivered and transported from a variety of locations, the originating location for all products should be noted as it can factor into the types of pests that may threaten retail facilities. Foot traffic is also a huge concern—mainly for the transfer of hitchhiking pests, such as bed bugs. In fact, in the last few years, major retailers have experienced bed bug infestations, driving them into the national media and social media spotlight while also forcing them to close their doors temporarily to treat these problems.
Most Problematic Pests
Oftentimes, the prevalence of pests in facilities will depend on various factors, including the location and condition of the building. That said there are a handful of pests known for being frequent trespassers.
Ants. These insects often enter buildings in search of shelter or food sources, especially sweets and protein. They are considered social insects, meaning that they live in large colonies of thousands or more. Unfortunately, if one ant is spotted in a facility, there are likely many more within close proximity, which makes this structural pest one of the most difficult to control. It is important to pay attention to general sanitation, as dirty food preparation areas and undisposed garbage can attract ants.
Cockroaches. Like ants, if one cockroach is found in a facility there are likely more nearby. These pests are good travelers and often find their way into commercial structures via shipments containing cardboard boxes. Not only are cockroaches considered a nuisance, but they are also a health and safety concern for facility managers. In fact, cockroaches are capable of spreading nearly 33 different kinds of bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli by picking up the germs on the spines of their legs and bodies and transporting them onto food or work surfaces. They are also known to cause allergic reactions and trigger exacerbated asthma symptoms through the allergens introduced in their saliva, droppings, and decomposing bodies. The best advice for cockroach control is practicing good sanitation indoors by vacuuming and keeping food preparation areas clean.
Bed Bugs. These pests have made a significant resurgence in recent years and continue to cause problems for facility managers and homeowners alike. Although bed bugs are typically thought to be a household pest, they can hitchhike to commercial facilities on clothes and personal items. A 2015 survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky found 45% of respondents had treated for bed bugs in office buildings in the prior year, while 20% treated infestations in retail stores. Both of these totals are up from the group’s 2013 survey.
There are various steps that facility managers can, and should, take to prevent bringing bed bugs into their buildings—from eliminating clutter in storage areas to inspecting new inventory while unpacking it. It’s also crucial to have a policy in place for employees who may suspect a bed bug infestation at home. A licensed pest management professional can help formulate a policy that fits the specific needs of the facility and its employees.
Flies. These are a real annoyance as they freely buzz around facilities, but the truth is that they pose a bigger health threat. Flies spread germs wherever they land—whether it be on a desk or food preparation source like a countertop. They are responsible for contaminating food and transferring more than 100 pathogens, including Salmonella and tuberculosis. Fly control is challenging as their larval development site must be located and eliminated. In addition to working with a pest management professional, facility managers should ensure trash is removed frequently and food areas, such as breakrooms and cafeterias, are free of food debris.
Rodents. These pests, such as mice and rats, are capable of entering buildings through openings the size of a dime or quarter depending on the species. Once inside, they can destroy materials and cause structural damage by gnawing through wallboards, wood, plaster, and electrical wiring.
Additionally, rodents defecate frequently, and their droppings are a common cause of allergic reactions in humans. Facility managers should regularly inspect buildings for rodent droppings, paying attention to undisturbed areas such as cafeteria pantries and storage closets.
Points Of Entry
It is also important to recognize and identify the various points of entry that provide pests access into buildings throughout the year. Consider the following pest hot spots around a facility.
Doorways. While doorways may be considered obvious entry points, these are an essential aspect of pest management. Not only are doorways used as the main entry for buildings, but they might also be propped open during deliveries, periods of heavy traffic, to increase airflow inside the structure, or to accommodate employee smoke breaks.
To assist in the prevention of pests using doorways as an entry point, air curtains can be installed above doors to deter flying pests, and door sweeps can be used to limit the gap between the floor and the bottom of a door. Facility managers should also consider working with a pest management professional to seal any cracks or crevices on the outside of the facility that can serve as entry points.
Pipework. Oftentimes, plumbing, ductwork, and electrical chases are possible entry points for pests because they require holes or openings in order to function properly. These open areas can provide a pathway for pests to not only travel indoors, but also move from one area of the building to another. This means that it may be necessary to investigate the areas above and below infestations to determine the entry point and spread.
In developing a pest management program, facility managers of larger high-rise buildings may want to obtain building plans that show the installation of pipework in the walls. Additionally, water and sewer lines, as well as floor drains, can be attractive to pests that need moisture for survival, like cockroaches and flies. This can occur in a small retail establishment with one bathroom or a high-rise office building with multiple restrooms. It is important to identify these areas with a higher risk.
Ceilings. Drop ceilings, while not considered to be an entry point, can be considered a pest hot spot as they provide unlimited movement for pests through the overhead area. Depending on the specific pest concern, these areas may need to be monitored and addressed. In addition to the space provided by drop ceilings, void spaces overall can provide significant harborage or overwintering opportunities for pests.
Interior plants. Individual plants and plantscapes like those found in larger retail malls can serve as ideal harborage sites for pests. In larger plantscape settings, which can include extensive beds and potential water features, there are a multitude of attractive conditions for pests to thrive. Additionally, if mall visitors dispose of food or drink in these spaces, those areas instantly become even more attractive to pests.
A common concern for smaller potted plants or large plantscapes is small flying insects, like fungus gnats, as the soil provides the ideal breeding grounds in both office and retail environments.
Personal space. Individuals can be a cause of many pest infestations and oftentimes personal desks or offices contain items that may be found in a residential home, including food, clothing, and medicine. These personal environments also create conditions that are attractive to pests.
Likewise, if there is a pest infestation in the home of an individual employee, the possibility exists for these pests to be transported into the workplace. Two common hitchhikers known to move from one location to another are German cockroaches and bed bugs.
Food service areas. Where there is food, moisture, and harborage, there is high potential for insect and rodent activity. Food service areas vary greatly, ranging from full commercial kitchens to small spaces with a refrigerator and microwave. In these areas, general sanitation and excess storage can be a concern as employees often leave behind items that can attract or harbor pests.
Public areas. Facility spaces such as entryways, public restrooms, elevators, and water fountains serve as hot spots that attract pests. Some of these areas require drainage, which may draw flies and cockroaches to the area due to excess moisture.
Grounds. The outdoor areas of buildings that contain standing water, such as ponds or a birdbath in a garden, may be a nice aesthetic, but these can also serve as unwanted potential breeding sites for pests. Other areas to consider addressing include storm and sewer grates, as well as trash collection areas.
While spotting a cockroach under the bathroom sink in a retail store or rodent droppings in the corner of an office may seem like minuscule issues, a full blown infestation can develop in the blink of an eye. By not having a proper pest management plan in place to address problems such as these, facility managers put their organizations and occupants at risk.
Fredericks is chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). A Board Certified Entomologist, his Ph.D. research involved subterranean termite foraging behavior with respect to in-ground termite bait stations under field conditions. Prior to his role with the NPMA, Fredericks spent 11 years working with Home Paramount Pest Control in Forest Hill, MD as technical director.
Mannes is vice president of public affairs for NPMA, where she is responsible for educating consumers about all facets of pest management. She served as the initial vice president of public affairs at NPMA from 2001-2008 and rejoined the organization in 2015.
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