When it comes to on-the-job safety, attitude is everything. Having a safe attitude is more than just following the rules — it is about knowing the risks and doing the right thing. As a PCO you face some unique safety concerns as well as some commonly shared ones. I tell all our new technicians that before they apply a pesticide to ask themselves, “Is it legal, and if it is, is it safe?” If it is not legal or safe, don’t do it!
Driver Safety. What is the most hazardous situation you face every day on your job? That question is most commonly answered by technicians by stating that pesticides are their major concern. I submit that the most hazardous situation faced by technicians is driving from customer to customer. Driving in wet conditions — snow, sleet, light rain, etc. — can all cause debilitating and even fatal injuries. Annual training on safe driving should be required for all technicians that drive a car or a truck on a daily basis. Even more important than annual in-house training is a defensive driving class, which will lower your premium and remove points from your license. I attended my first defensive driving course in 1968 and have repeated it 14 times. I always leave the course with a renewed sense of driving responsibility.
Seasonal Concerns. Many other safety concerns are seasonal in nature. In warmer months, major concerns for those who work outside include skin protection, heat awareness and dehydration. How many technicians use sun block on exposed body parts on sunny days? You probably use sunscreen when you go to the beach for the day, but do you think about of it when you are working? Dehydration has many negative results on your body. Understand the dangers of losing fluids through perspiration and evacuation. The simple fix is to drink water throughout the day. Carry a bottle of water with you and take a drink every time you get in or out of your vehicle. In fall, be particularly careful around schools. The speed limit drops acutely. School children often are in their own world and ignore traffic. Also, remember never to pass a school bus when a stop sign is deployed and the lights are flashing. Another often-ignored hazard is falling leaves, which can cause skidding especially when coupled with rain.
Winter brings cold temps, and one of your answers to safety during this time is to dress in layers to avoid hypothermia. You can remove clothing if it is too warm and add a sweatshirt, undershirt or vest if it becomes colder. Winter driving brings you into contact with snow, ice and sleet. My dad always said to keep two hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and maintain a safe following distance. If you are involved in an accident, ask yourself which of those you did not follow. Spring brings rain and puddling. Did you know the most dangerous time to drive is often just after a light rain or when it begins to rain. The rain mixes with oil on the road creating slippery road conditions.
Pesticide Considerations. Most importantly for PCOs, follow the label instructions on your pesticide containers. Most labels state that you must wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks. It sounds simple but many techs ignore the warning to wear long-sleeved shirts because it is hot. I have never seen a tech wear shorts but I am sure it happens. I have not met anyone who performs pest management without socks, but again it probably happens. Gloves should be worn on almost every job. Rubber or vinyl gloves should always be worn when handling pesticides (this includes homeowners). Leather gloves should be worn when performing work that is hazardous to your hands, such as securing tamper-proof bait stations to the ground. Thicker specialty gloves (usually leather) should be worn when performing wildlife remediation to prevent animal scratches and bites. Let’s not forget respirators. To wear a respirator you must have an exposure assessment, have a written respiratory program, offer respirator selections, complete a medical evaluation and hold fit testing and respirator training. The initial medical evaluation can be done online and if further testing is required, it is commonly done by the employee’s physician. It sounds difficult but it is rather simple to follow. If the pesticide label states that you should wear a respirator, take that statement as a requirement — not as a suggestion. Also, remember that those paper masks do not provide the same protection as NIOSH/MSHA air purifying respirators. If you need a respirator, buy and wear the best. We are talking about your health and your safety. If you are entering a particularly hazardous area you may need to wear a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) which does not filter the air but provides clean air from a tank worn on the body much like a SCUBA tank. Read the label and follow all the precautionary statements to the letter. It is the law.
Slips, Trips and Falls. I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a few thoughts on ladders. In my opinion, the three most significant safety hazards are driving, slips trips and falls, and ladders. Did you know ladders are rated by the weight they can safely carry? If you weigh 250 pounds and are using a ladder rated for 200 pounds, you are unsafe every time you use that ladder. Three important ladder safety requirements are (1) to have your ladder extend at least 3 feet past the roof line; (2) space the foot of the ladder one-quarter of the length of the ladder away from the base of the building; and (3) always use a ladder rated for your weight. When should you never use a ladder? When it is dark, when it is precipitating, when it is windy and, most of importantly, when you feel unsafe using a ladder. Remember, when it comes to safety, you are acting on behalf of yourself, your family and, yes, your employer, who really does not want you to be injured and out of work.
Review, Review, Review. I have an archive of more than 200 safety tips that are shared with technicians at weekly company meetings that fall into several categories: fall protection; blood-borne pathogens; hands-free cell phones; foot protection; hand tool rules; personal protective equipment; re-fueling safety; safe lifting; and hazard communication.
Focus on the safety elements most important for the type of work you perform and use common sense in all hazardous situations. There is almost limitless information on safety on the Internet that can be accessed. You also probably will find that your insurance carrier can provide handouts/videos and other support for your safety training. Know the risks before starting a task and always do the right thing...it is YOUR responsibility.
The author is manager of education and training for Arrow Exterminating, Lynbrook, N.Y., and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.