While pesticide safety is always top of mind, don’t overlook hazards related to vehicle use, slips, spills and falls, and others.
When considering applicator safety we usually think of safety associated with pesticides, despite the fact most injuries associated with pest control technicians are related to vehicle use and slips, spills and falls. Our vocation is unique because we work so frequently in different types of establishments and environments, ranging from a residence, to a supermarket, to a healthcare facility, to a warehouse. Each type of service location represents hazards and risks different from those represented by pesticides. This article identifies some of those hazards.
Residential settings can present safety issues inside and outside of a structure. Consider the following:
- Beware of dogs. Dogs can bite and snap at strangers with whom they are unfamiliar. Ask that dogs be placed outside or in closed rooms, even if the pet owner says, “He’s friendly.”
- Working outside? Service personnel should be taught to identify poison ivy and other poisonous plants native to their service area that might be encountered.
- Protective eyewear should be worn before moving through brush and vegetation outside to prevent eye injury.
- Service professionals working outside should wear insect repellent to reduce the risk of mosquito and tick bites.
- Technicians should be trained on tick prevention practices.
- Working in extreme cold can cause frost bite; additional clothing should be worn. Conversely, working in extreme heat can cause heat stroke, so drinking lots of water is advisable and wearing wide-brimmed hats can protect from sun exposure.
Professionals working in commercial accounts face a variety of safety threats, due in part to the wide range of commercial settings. Hazards include:
Ammonia gas — Cold storage warehouses and freezers often use ammonia gas as a refrigerant coolant. Pesticide-rated respirators do not filter gases such as ammonia. Areas with strong ammonia odors should be avoided.
Ventilation — When working in confined spaces (e.g., sewers, utility manholes, crawlspaces) with limited egress, keep in mind such spaces could have odorous and non-odorous gases present and could be oxygen-deficient. These areas should not be entered without special training and confined space entry protections.
Commercial warehouse issues — Our work is required in many different types of warehouses and storage facilities, some with storage racks and some without. Bump caps or hard hats should be worn to protect from inadvertent hits to the head. Service personnel need to continuously be aware of where fork lifts and hand trucks are moving about to avoid being hit and should be aware where merchandise is being moved.
Manufacturing plant issues — Different types of manufacturing plants can represent broken and flying glass risks, as well as potential hearing loss in excessively noisy locations. Safety equipment required by employees in different types of locations should always be worn by pest management personnel, be they protective eyewear, bump caps or ear plugs.
Bloodborne pathogens — Bloodborne pathogens are organisms that can cause illness and are spread by contact with contaminated blood or objects. Service personnel need to use care when bending down on surfaces with possible broken glass or sharp objects and should never stick hands, fingers or arms into unseen spaces where needles or other sharp objects could be hidden.
Tuberculosis — Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria spread through the air and inhaled. Health-care facilities, jails and prisons, as well as animal research facilities — especially those working with primates — are where the risk of tuberculosis exposure is greater than normal. Working in such areas requires more vigilance.
Airborne pathogen exposure — When cleaning droppings of animals such as rodents and birds, pest management professionals need to wear a respirator, especially in confined spaces such as basement and poorly ventilated attics.
Handling animal traps — Pathogens in animal droppings can vector disease organisms. Pest management professionals always should wear gloves and take care when handling soiled animal traps.
Ladders — Everyone using ladders (whether step, folding or extension type) should be trained on how to use each safely and properly.
Fall protection — When working more than 6 feet off the ground individuals should be schooled in using fall protection equipment and techniques.
Radiation — Health-care and research facilities — and some types of manufacturing plants — use radiation to sterilize and diagnose illnesses. These areas are usually posted with warning signs. Such areas should not be entered by pest management professionals without permission from on-site personnel who can declare access is safe.
Lockout tagout — When working in close quarters to equipment that appears not to be working, be aware such equipment may startup unexpectedly and/or be controlled from another room. Extra care needs to be used. Bakeries are notorious for such situations.
Continually Raise Awareness.
While this list is far from complete, the reader should get the idea every place we work in is different, with unique potential risks. Awareness (through training) of these potential risks is often all that is needed to protect the pest management professional. Your clients will have different safety requirements for vendors and suppliers working at their facilities; they can, and often will, outline these risks and provide safety awareness training.
The author, retired technical director of Waltham Services, is now doing technical writing and consulting. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.