Current bed bug treatments include chemical, cryogenic spot treatments, heat and fumigation. Each type of treatment offers its own advantages and limitations:
Chemical treatments may not provide an instant contact kill, but offer some long-term, limited residuals. Products can be applied to non-bedding areas such as crevices of bedframes, headboards, bedside tables and electrical outlets — places that do not have the potential for human exposure. Since infestations begin in harborage areas of untreated mattresses, bed bug populations often will build to an intolerable and noticeable level before they move into the treated areas.
Cryogenic treatments use a directed stream of liquid nitrogen to kill bed bugs on contact. This method is labor intensive and a direct contact kill only, so its use is usually limited to modes of transportation and furniture/furnishings. There is no residual with this treatment.
Heat treatment for bed bugs has become a commonly accepted alternative or addition to conventional pesticide treatments. Consumers often believe heat is a “green alternative” that eliminates potential pesticide exposures. Research shows that bed bugs die when exposed to temperatures of at least 120°F, so standard treatment protocols call for heating areas between 120°-140°F and holding temperatures in that range for several hours to allow lethal heat to penetrate mattresses, upholstered furniture and all potential harborage areas. There is no residual with this treatment.
Heat creates property damage exposures for especially fragile plastics, wax, cosmetics, electronics and other items left in the heated environment. The use of a preparation checklist for heat treatment, signed by the customer and retained in your files, can help protect companies in these cases. They require the customer to cooperate by removing items, washing clothing and bedding, and eliminating clutter that provides safe, cooler harborage for bed bugs during the treatment. Customer cooperation in treatment area preparation is critical for the successful heat treatment elimination of bed bugs.
Fumigation is an uncommon (but effective) control method due to its high costs. Bed bug fumigations are conducted like treatments for drywood termites, with the required tarping, aeration times, displacement of occupants and removal of items identified on a preparation checklist. It is effective in reaching areas that heat may not penetrate, such as cluttered rooms and wall voids. However, once the structure is cleared for re-occupancy, there is no residual with this treatment.
BED BUG LANGUAGE. What do all of these types of treatments mean as far as your company’s bed bug guarantees?
Bed bug (and all general pest) agreements should include a bodily injury disclaimer for insect bites and stings. If you are offering any type of guarantee against re-infestation, you have to communicate that heat and other physical methods leave no residual and bed bugs can be reintroduced immediately after a hotel room (or any treated area) is put back into inventory or use. The only guarantee that you can make is the elimination of bed bugs in the treated area at the time of treatment.
Our insurance company strongly recommends that you offer no guarantee in your bed bug treatment agreement, marketing materials or in sales presentations. However, any guarantee offered should differentiate between “bed beg free at the time of treatment” and “guaranteed to not get bed bugs after treatment.” The latter should not be used for any of these non-residual treatments, unless you are willing to come back and retreat for free. And even then, you cannot “guarantee not to get bed bugs after treatment.” There is no insurance coverage for this type of guarantee so with residual treatments you must bear all retreatment costs.
Remember non-residual treatments cannot provide extended protection against re-infestation. You cannot control infestations from sources beyond your control and overpromising the future efficacy of non-residual treatment will create claims exposures. The next hotel guest, subway passenger, movie theater customer, halfway house resident or housekeeping employee can transport bed bugs and start a new infestation. Bodily injury allegations can come from hotel guests who transport bed bugs into their own hotel rooms, or leave bed bugs in their rooms for the next guests.
The author is director of risk management at Capital Risk Underwriters. The firm provides sample bed bug contract language that will clearly explain treatment limitations and guarantees to customers. Learn more at http://cruins.com or call 877/799-1400.