[Liability Issues] Keep It Clean & Stain Free

Departments - Business Strategy

Indoor pest control, L&O and termite work all have the opportunity to be costly to your firm if certain precautions aren’t taken. Here are some "ounce of prevention" tips for your pest management company.

April 23, 2010
Vern Morris

Lately, our insurance firm has had several claims involving overapplication of chemical and staining in customers’ homes. Although in most cases the following examples may seem to be common sense to many pest management professionals, let’s review some of the causes of these claims and how to avoid them. Avoiding claims saves you money in the long run (in many ways).

Indoor pest control. Here are some situations to review with your staff regarding indoor pest control:

1. Make sure your equipment is in proper working order before you bring it into your customer’s home. Pump up your compressed air sprayer outside to ensure the seals are working properly. Check your bulb duster to ensure the top is screwed on tight or the filling area is tightly in place. If you use an ultra low volume system (ULV) or a fogger be sure to maintain them so they perform properly.

We recently paid a $17,000 claim to clean a home because a pest management company using ULV had not maintained the equipment, causing it to leave residue on the furnishings of the home. Not only did the firm have an unhappy customer who will talk of this experience every time pest control is brought into the conversation, the company’s claim experience dictates its insurance rates. While we work to keep rates as low as possible, companies with claims are going to pay more than those without claims.

2. When I first started in the pest control business, it was common practice for all new accounts to power dust attics. Well, times have changed and customers want as little pesticide in their home as possible. I worked for a national company that was forced to hire a contractor to vacuum out and replace all of the blown insulation in a home because their electrician would not go in the attic because of the insecticidal dust. If you must use dust in an attic, use a bulb duster and treat the localized infested area only. There are also granular baits available that work very well in attics.

3. Many of today’s pest control prod-ucts have a petroleum base. When introduced to carpeting, these products can have disastrous results. Keep your chemical storage box clean and free of spills. Keep a clean cloth available to wipe the bottom of containers and equipment that will be brought into the home.

4. While most pest management professionals practice IPM and the industry has moved toward outside perimeter sprays, many would think their liability would almost be eliminated. But did you know some homes with vinyl siding will discolor from some pesticides? Some pesticides do have these warnings on their label but not all. I’m aware of a PMP whose treatment discolored the vinyl siding on a home. His insurance company is now paying to replace the siding. Be careful when servicing the outside of homes. Test a small area of the siding with the desired chemical, in an inconspicuous spot, prior to spraying. Wait and look for staining.

5. Long gone are the days of spraying baseboards. For years you could tell which homeowners had pest control on a regular basis by the lighter carpet next to their homes’ baseboards. These practices are not acceptable today. There is no reason to introduce pesticides into the home unless insects are present. Use monitors and baits under sinks and behind appliances, knock down spider webs and do a good perimeter treatment to keep insects from entering.

6. If you can see bait applications when not actually looking for them, they have been misapplied. Do not pile new bait on top of old bait. Old bait needs to be scraped off before applying new bait. The old bait is not palatable to insects and is unsightly to the homeowner.

7. I have serviced some homes where the homeowner will request you to take off your shoes. I do not feel comfortable taking my shoes off in someone else’s home. And although I respect their wishes to not have dirt that may be trapped in the grooves of your shoes spread through their home, I feel there are safety issues involved. What if you step on a sharp object or stub your toe? And it can be a safety issue if you are applying a flea spray. I opt to use surgical booties over my shoes. They are inexpensive, can be used numerous times and you can roll them up and put them in your pocket when not needed.

Lawn and Ornamental. The largest complaint with staining during lawn and ornamental work is from iron. Many companies use iron to help "green up" lawns, both in liquid and granular forms. While applying iron in a liquid form, the technician needs to keep the spray from getting on driveways and sidewalks. I have found no foolproof method for doing this, other then being aware and careful with your spray. (If you have any ideas in this area please contact me.) When applying dry fertilizer, utilize the spreader guard to mitigate the amount of fertilizer spread on driveways and sidewalks, then use a leaf blower or a broom to remove any granules that may make it onto those surfaces.

Our firm insured a pest management company that was servicing a large community with zero lot lines. The technician was applying dry fertilizer when the weather turned inclement and started to rain. He left the site without cleaning the fertilizer off the driveways and sidewalks. This resulted in a $650,000+ claim. The firm should have had one person following the applicator clearing the fertilizer off the concrete as they went along.

Additionally, take particular care around swimming pools. There is nothing worse then being called to a customer’s home to explain the rusty streaks running down the inside of a pool ending with larger rust circles at the bottom. If this happens to you, be prepared to pay a scuba diver to clean the pool. There is a lifesaver for iron stains on concrete sidewalk and driveways, called Oxalic Acid. This product will clean most rust off these surfaces. But why not save yourself the trouble and just be careful? (On a side note, be careful when pulling your hose around the side of homes. Many tender shrubs and flowers have been demolished by aggressive service technicians.)

Termite. When performing termite work there are three areas of concern with regards to staining and keeping it clean.

1. Even with the addition of termite spot treatments, there may be some drilling involved with termite treatments. When patching holes, technicians should try to match the patch as close as possible to the concrete. This can be accomplished by introducing some of the dust from the drill holes with your patch. What I found works even better is brushing some of the dust on the patch before it dries.

2. If the situation arises and you have to drill inside a home, be prepared. Have a large, clean tarp on your truck to put down to protect the floors and walls from that dirty hose. And wear your booties while working inside.

3. When trenching around the home you have to be careful to not chip or scratch the paint or siding. Take your time to leave the home the same as it was before you arrived.

Fumigation. Yes, fumigation operations can cause staining when using sulfuryl fluoride. Be sure to direct the fumigant into the blast of air from a fan(s) that has the capacity of at least 1,000 cubic feet per minute for each pound of sulfuryl fluoride released per minute. Even with this precaution, if the valve is opened too quickly, or the outside temperature is too cold, some of the gas can come out as a liquid and etch tile and wood. You should always position carpet pads or tarps in the line of airflow to protect the home.

CONCLUSION. There are many causes of staining for claims. But with conscious forethought many can be avoided. If you have experienced a particular stain problem or have a solution that was not discussed in this article, please share it with me so I may get the word out and protect others.

The author is loss control manager, Capital Risk Underwriters, an insurance provider to the pest control industry. E-mail him at vmorris@giemedia.com.