Pest Management, or Pest Control

To read this article in print, head over here to the PEST Webpage.

Shifting Perspectives.

To start with, who knows what industry we work in?

Is it Pest Control? Pest Management? Environmental Services?  Are we exterminators, public health operators or just the rat man (or woman).

But really now, what’s in a name? Some may very well say nothing, I however argue that in this day in age with the shifting perspectives of public opinion, then having people intuitively understand that our industry is more than just bumping off the small verminous animals scuttling about is paramount to this industries survival.

So should we be looking to call ourselves Pest Managers, Pest Controllers or something else entirely?

Surely they are the just synonyms for the same thing?  Well, on the surface… yes? but really?? Not so much.

Ill start with the title which is the most important, but arguably is the smallest part of our job; Pest Control.  Pest Control is the action (physical or chemical) of identifying and removing pest animals from an area, usually achieved by a professional using specialist tools and knowledge. It is a short, sharp and acute program designed to deal with an immediate issue presented on site.  And alongside all of that, it is the most emotive part of our jobs and probably the part which is least understood by the general public.

“Why are you doing that?”

“Its just trying to survive”

“I bet you really enjoy your job don’t you”

In short, Pest Control is finding a solution to a problem which has already been established.  It is a reaction to the fact that the environment we are dealing with has shown itself to be attractive to animals known to spread diseases, cause damage and present distress to people and businesses.  An environment which was allowed to become an infestation risk usually well before we arrived (so ask yourself, whose shoulders does the moral responsibility of the removal of these animals really lie?).

So then what is Pest Management?

Pest Management is the series of actions, processes and modifications to an area which lower the risks of pests being present in the first place. Unlike Pest Control, which is undertaken by skilled professionals, Pest Management is the responsibility of everyone on the site, from ensuring that food is cleared away to making sure that building defects and breaks in biosecurity don’t become an open door for pests. All these actions lead to a more secure site, where the likelihood of serious pest infestations is decreased.  That is to say that just because it is not our sole responsibility, we can simply wash our hands of it.  The recommendations made at our proactive pest routines should feed back into this process, and if those recommendations fall within our skillset to resolve then we need to where possible take ownership of them.

Lastly is Environmental management.

As with the above, as more and more aspects of Pest Management get brought into the arena so does the responsibility and accountability of the sites you are working within. 

Yet what happens when no one takes ownership of this arena, when it slips into the murky realms of, ‘the wild’.  It would be easy to think that beyond the realms of that perimeter fence our knowledge and influence cease to have any impact… but is that strictly true?

The animals on the other side of that fence are the same animals we were dealing with on this side of the fence, just maybe not right now.  If we were to stand on that boundary and look out we would see them, their tracks and trails, and we would know in our bones that it will be a matter of when and not if we will see them on our sites, yet what do we do?

Obviously there is a limit to what we can do, we wouldn’t for example start trebuchetting armfuls of chemicals into the great green yonder as a preventive measure against future incursions.  Yet we can start to moderate the environment to create a fire break between that area of uncontrollable risk and our arena of controlled risks.

The close of my first point therefore is this; we have decide how far along that scale we sit, and I would tell you all now that you sit further towards the Environmental Management side than you may think.  That’s not to say this is a green agenda, pushing us away from Pest Control.  Pest Control is the very core of what we do, but who we are and what we are capable of as an Industry is so very much more.

The second point is that now we understand ourselves a little better, how do we get other industries and the general public to understand this?

Well, with fire… literally (and a little metaphorically).

Everyone understands the risks of fire, we’ve had it drilled into us since primary school.  We’re taught the signs of fire, what to do in case of fire and we even have drills where we pretend there are fires.

And despite all this preparation, time, money and effort that is put into fire prevention we all expect that given a long enough time frame, a fire will happen.  So why don’t we apply that very same thinking to pests?

No one wants to have pests on their site anymore than they would want to have fire.  At this point I image you are sat there mumbling “but Alex, this is very much like comparing oranges to apples, after all fires and rats are two separate things”.

“It has been estimated that rodents cause up to 20 percent of undetermined fires in the United States each year” – Gordon Ivory, New York Fire Investigator.

HSE, BPCA, the National Fire Service, all have commented in print on the clear correlation between rodents and fire risks.  SO with all said and done, for me, the comparison of risk stands.

So what to do with this awkward analogy then?

Well we can draw some interesting similarities and we can lean into this intuitive understanding of fire risk when it comes to speaking with our clients.

Firstly we can talk of how we build our buildings.  With both pest management and fire safety we are creating fire breaks.  We are ensuring that neither pest or flame has abundant access to whatever it needs to thrive nor does it have the capacity to move around a site freely.  The principle of not leaving flammable materials near to or stacked against buildings is a big priority in terms of fire prevention, so why not apply the same diligence to pests with removing their harbourage in the areas surrounding the buildings?  This is your rationalisation to being your environmental management programs into play.

Smoke alarms?  Every house, business, public space will have at least one and they will be diligently maintained sometimes at great costs.  These then are analogous to our proactive pest management surely?  Just because there currently isn’t a fire (or active pest infestation) doesn’t make these inspections any less valuable.  These are the proactive measures you take to ensure that if and when there is an issue it will be caught whilst it is still small and before it has cause much, if any, serious damage.

Finally, fire extinguishers are installed to ensure our rapid response, and the parallel for pest control in our trifecta of analogies.  A rapid response to an identified problem requires the application of the right skills and tools to prevent a problem growing, and while you can argue that anyone can use a fire extinguisher we can all agree that a fireman will likely do a much better job.  Because without this rapid and skilled response problems can become too large too fast quickly creating the need for a reactionary strategy which is larger, more complicated and ultimately most costly.

So in closing a quote from Aristotle, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”, because being able to explain that while pests are the responsibility of everyone, their safe, effective and legal control is the obligation of trained professionals. It is a fine line to walk, and one that when it is achieved successfully will result is significant dividends.