Pests can expose your practice and patients to significant health risks. Here are some of the controls you can put in place to reduce and manage such hazards
Pest control is an often-underrated branch of public health, and particularly in western societies, can be overlooked, as our exposure to pest problems is relatively minimal. Every business however has a responsibility to demonstrate due diligence in terms of excluding public health pests, and dealing promptly with any infestations that occur.
If the practice is based on your own site, it is probably your responsibility to deal with the control and eradication of any pests. If you do not control pest activity at your sites, you may be forced to control them by local authorities under the terms of The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949. Local authorities can also deal with insect infestations under the terms of the Public Health Act 1936/1961 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, these are just a few of the legal requirements that govern the need to control pests.
It is always better to be proactive and prevent an infestation before it becomes a major issue. The best way to do this is by making the environment uninviting to pests. All pests require food and shelter and this is provided at most locations. Consider first the areas where food is stored, prepared or eaten as this will have many items that are attractive to pests; ants will love the sugar at the coffee area or the glucose drips in your store, and beetles will be happy you left the biscuits out for them. Rats may be drawn to your bin area if not kept clean and tidy, and mice are always on the lookout for new territory to expand into. Flies and biting insects are happy to come in through your open windows and doors and cause a nuisance to your patients and colleagues, bringing a range of nasty bacteria and viruses with them. This is of particular concern where immunosuppressed individuals are being brought into contact with contamination caused by pest species.
Avoiding the problem
So, now that we have established that pests may be attracted to your premises, what can you do to prevent this? Good hygiene and housekeeping will greatly reduce the risk of any pest infestations. Storing all food in airtight containers (including the sugar that is normally kept in an open container by the kettle) will greatly reduce the risk of pests being attracted to your premises. Keeping doors and windows closed will help reduce the risk of rodent ingress and stop flies from entering the building; if you have windows that you would like to keep open then you can always look at having fly screens and door strip curtains fitted professionally.
The internal and external bin areas need to be kept tidy and all rubbish should be stored in robust containers; they must be kept closed at all times and be emptied on a regular basis. Good practice will include an inspection of the external bin area after collection; this is to ensure that the waste products are not being left around the area after collection and that the containers are fully emptied. Flies love nothing more than old residues in the bottom of bins in which to breed.
To be confident that your premises are pest free and to further reduce the risk of a pest infestation it is highly advisable to perform site inspections. These should be carried out on a regular basis. This would ideally be as a minimum once every six weeks as this is the breeding cycle of rats and mice. The inspection should involve looking for signs of pests (for example evidence of gnawing, droppings, or the pests themselves). It should also include looking for any gaps or damage to door brush strips that could allow rodent ingress, or poor hygiene and housekeeping practices that might be encouraging pests into your building. Inspection of the outside area and keeping an eye on other premises nearby will also be of great benefit; if there is a food establishment or an alley where rubbish is fly tipped nearby then this could increase the risk of pests being attracted to your area and, therefore, increasing the risk to you. Thus, regular inspections are a critical part of your pest management process; all of this will greatly reduce your risks of having any pest issues on your premises.
Know your limitations. Pests are incredibly difficult to deal with and some species such as bed bugs, rodents and cockroaches require skill and training that have been learnt and perfected over many years of treatments to achieve and maintain control. If you are faced with an infestation that is beyond your control, bring in a professional who has been suitably trained and has access to the professional products needed to manage infestations. Professional pest controllers will carry out the detailed inspections required to reduce the risk of you having any pest issues, and are highly trained in looking for the key early signs of a pest problem and preventing it before it becomes an infestation.
Risks of pests
A professional pest control contract should be viewed as an insurance policy. It should be seen as part of a ‘due diligence’ defence for the practice to show that they have done what is reasonably possible to protect people and products from pest infestation. As with all insurance policies, you need to adhere to certain conditions and these will be the recommendations given by the pest controller in their report. So, if you decide to go without an insurance policy, then what are the risks?
One of the main risks associated with pests is disease. These can be passed on to staff or service users via contaminated products. Rats, for example, carry Weil’s disease in their urine, an infection that presents itself with flu-like symptoms but can be deadly (as an aside, if a the delegated pest controller presents with flu, it might be worth testing for Leptospirosis – an infectious bacterial disease occurring in rodents, dogs, and other mammals, which can be transmitted to humans). Cockroaches and housefly can transfer a number of illnesses due to their unsavoury feeding habits, and birds such as pigeons and their droppings can carry disease and cause respiratory illness. Any employer who ignores such pest activity and allows employees (or visitors) to fall ill should expect a visit from an enforcement body such as the local environmental health department, with heavy fines and even jail terms being possible following a successful prosecution. This is not to mention the negative publicity caused by infestations – after all, people come to you to get better, not pick up new problems.
The price of pests
The cost of a pest infestation can also be heavy in terms of damage to stock and equipment. Mice for example feed ‘little and often’, taking food from dozens of locations in a single night. Mice also freely urinate and defecate on every surface they come in to contact with. They are also proficient climbers. This can result in the need to decontaminate expensive equipment, and the recall or even destruction of stock contaminated by mouse activity. Rodents must also gnaw to stunt the growth of their incisor teeth. This again
leads to damage, often shutting machinery down when power cables or other wires are chewed through. Every year, a significant number of properties are damaged and destroyed by rodents causing fires
and floods with their gnawing habits. Insurers estimate rodent activity may be partly or wholly responsible for up to 25% of house fires a year.
As you can see, the cost of pest infestation can be high. Disease, damage, prosecution and bad publicity can all be caused by unchecked pest infestations. A pest control contract with a suitably insured, trained and qualified company will not necessarily guarantee zero pest activity. However, regular inspection visits with a competent contractor will act as an early warning system, under which pest activity can be flagged and dealt with before it becomes a threat to the business. A contract that contains a callout programme is also highly beneficial as it ensures that any pest activity taking place between routine visits can be rapidly dealt with.
Always use a reputable professional. Whether it’s for a one off infestation (such as wasps) or a pro-active pest prevention programme, always ensure that you use a reputable contractor.
These businesses will employ qualified individuals and have the appropriate insurance and safe systems of work to allow them to work safely on your premises. After all, you wouldn’t want unqualified people operating in your field, so why accept it from a person to whom you are entrusting the health of your staff and patients?
The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) recommends that you employ the services of a BPCA member, as you can be assured that a BPCA member is suitably qualified, suitably insured, and that their premises and quality of work have been visited and assessed by a BPCA staff representative on a regular basis.
Just like healthcare professionals, pest controllers employed by BPCA Members are required to maintain up-to-date knowledge; in their case of the pests, the products used to control them, and legislation that governs them. When selecting a pest control company, or allowing a technician on site, ask whether they meet these criteria. For your peace of mind, and that of your colleagues and patients’.
Dee Ward-Thompson, technical manager for the British Pest Control Association (BPCA).