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Why pest control is essential for businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

Harry Wood

Many businesses and organisations are under great pressure during the current global health and economic crises. Crucial areas of healthcare and social care are at the front line of the battle against COVID-19 and businesses supplying a wide range of products and services are needed to keep these and all sectors of society running – not least the food supply system.

Many types of pest present in urban environments worldwide are vectors of diseases, contaminate and consume food supplies and cause physical damage to buildings. WHO lists over 30 important pathogenic bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths that can be spread by just rodents and their ectoparasites.

In addition to rodents, other pests, including flies, cockroaches, birds, stored product insects, fleas and ticks are a health and economic threat. Buildings in all sectors, including hospitals, food processing plants, manufacturing plants, warehouses, education, hotels, restaurants, offices and residential accommodation provide ideal environments for many of these opportunistic pests.

How pests impact businesses during the coronavirus

Buildings can provide a perfect harbourage for pests to shelter and breed, especially when there is little or no disturbance from people during the lockdown. Pests can damage many parts of buildings to gain access and get around buildings to find food and nesting places.

Rodents cause gnawing damage and shred materials for nesting, birds can damage roofs and block drains causing flooding damage and all pests contaminate surfaces with droppings. Pest numbers can rapidly increase with access to food supplies – including unemptied food waste bins. Costs of pest control, cleaning, disinfection and repairs can quickly escalate.
A survey conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) for Rentokil found that more than 70% of businesses in five countries suffered significant financial losses during an infestation – and that was during normal times when buildings were in full use!

Pests are also a risk to the health and wellbeing of staff and customers. In addition to spreading diseases the presence of pest infestations causes stress and anxiety. The survey found that the impact on staff morale was the most commonly cited impact in all five countries, with 30-38% of businesses reporting it as the number one impact.

This shows the importance of protecting buildings during the lockdown for both essential businesses that need to keep operations running and for businesses that are closed. Action now will keep buildings pest-free, safe and ready to use when the lockdown is lifted and business operations are restarted. It will also reassure staff and customers that a building is safe to work in or visit.
Each business sector has critical areas with specific pest risks that could have an impact on health and cause financial and reputational damage:

How to control pests

Businesses should adopt a thorough pest control programme to protect their buildings from pests to maintain essential operations to continue safely or enable operations to be started again as soon as possible after restrictions are lifted. There is a wide range of actions businesses can employ to protect their premises from pests. Digital solutions can offer remote monitoring of pests and 24/7 alerts of pest activity, proofing buildings prevent pests from gaining access, and a range of non-toxic solutions are available to remove pests safely when an infestation has occurred.

Control of rodents requires the removal of places they can shelter in and around buildings and preventing access to food and water. Large buildings, such as hospitals, manufacturing plants or hotels will have many potential routes for rodents to enter, including around vents, pipes, cabling, drains, doorways, windows and screens. They seek harbourage, nesting materials and food, causing structural damage, and are a major risk for damaging electrical wiring that can cause fires.

Regular maintenance is essential to prevent rodents taking advantage of weak points in buildings. There are many types of rodent-proofing products available to close and fill in gaps to block off potential access routes. Rentokil offers a comprehensive range of proofing solutions to fit any customer problem.

Any rodents present must be controlled using traps or rodenticides in accordance with acceptable practices and legislation. Effective use of rodenticides and traps, especially on large sites, requires expertise and knowledge of the practical application of local regulations. Rodenticides used must be approved products, placed in secure bait stations and restricted to areas where food is not handled.

Controlling cockroaches

Cockroaches shelter in dark places such as cracks, crevices, drains, sewers, inside equipment and machinery and any hidden spaces, emerging at night to seek food. Good food sanitation practices will deny cockroaches a food supply and prevent infestations.

  • Inspect equipment, buildings and food deliveries to detect infestations quickly
  • Good cleaning practices are essential in areas where food is handled – cockroaches can feed on any small residues of food, even from spills
  • Store food in cockroach-proof containers – they can chew through and even eat paper and cardboard
  • Maintain drains in good condition to prevent accumulation of food debris and means of access and shelter
  • Remove waste from food production areas and keep food waste containers closed and clean
  • Reduce the routes of access into buildings by closing and filling in spaces around pipe and cable ways, vents, screens, windows, doorways, sewers

Controlling flies

The application of standard hygiene practices are particularly important for controlling flies to reduce the attractive odours, feeding material and breeding sites.

  • Regularly clean areas used to deliver store, process and prepare food and to store waste
  • Apply standard hygienic practices in canteen and kitchen areas
  • Dispose of waste regularly so that it does not rot or overflow
  • Clean food waste bins and ensure they are shut properly
  • Keep drains free of accumulating organic matter and biofilms

Exclusion depends on the design and maintenance of the facility and could include the following measures.

  • Use of screens on windows and vents, maintained in good condition
  • Appropriate door design for the purpose, such as automatic doors, air curtains, roll-up doors, vinyl strip doors
  • Keeping doors shut when not in use
  • Maintaining the building to prevent gaps appearing in any part of the building fabric that would allow insects to enter
  • Use of LED insect light traps and pheromone traps that catch flies to help prevent build-up of breeding populations

Stored product pest control

Most dried food products are susceptible to stored product insect infestation, including cereal products, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, spices, powdered milk, tea and preserved meats. They’re more likely to infest products that have been opened, but they can also get into many types of packaging.

These pests are controlled by using standard quality control measures throughout the supply chain, for managing suppliers, logistics companies, incoming shipments, storage of raw materials, processing, packaging and storage of final product. Basic practices can minimise the risk of infestation.

  • Inspect food and packages on delivery for broken packaging, freshness, packaged/use-by date
  • Store foods in tight-closing containers or in a fridge or freezer, where appropriate
  • Throw away food that is infested with pests
  • Use older products first, use up opened packets first and dispose of old products
  • Keep food storage areas clean, including shelves and cupboards, and remove spilled foods

Bird control

Bird control consists of preventing access to food, water and shelter by eliminating nesting and feeding sites on buildings. This should start with the design of the facility and include measures to prevent access to flat roofs, balconies, ledges, chimney stacks, guttering and culverts, which are favourite areas for nesting. The following basic practices will help to prevent access to food and water.

  • keep doors closed when not in use
  • remove spillages quickly
  • keep waste storage areas clean and containers shut
  • waste containers should be bird-proof
  • remove any standing water, where possible
  • regularly check food storage areas for potential bird access points

 

Bird repellent systems that can be installed on buildings or used near them include:

  • netting
  • needle strips
  • electric bird deterrents
  • scaring devices
  • Traps
  • entry barriers such as vertical plastic strips or automatic doors

The essential role of pest control during the COVID-19 pendemic

Pest control plays a crucial role in enabling essential businesses and organisations to provide safe products and services, prevent disease outbreaks and reduce the risk of downtime. Pest infestations will delay the return of a building to normal use when the coronavirus lockdown restrictions are lifted. By using pest control services during this time, infestations can be monitored and dealt with quickly and costs can be significantly reduced.

A professional pest control service can provide an integrated pest-management plan that controls pests efficiently and discreetly to protect the building, stock, equipment and provides a safe place for staff.

pest control essential service

Harry Wood
Harry Wood

I am a Content Communications Editor at Rentokil Initial, writing content for all our marketing activities on topics as diverse as pest control, pest-borne diseases, food safety, climate change, wellbeing, hygiene and airborne diseases. I've been an editor and writer for over 30 years in academic and business roles. I started life in the Forestry Commission, moved into tropical forestry and environment in Thailand before migrating to the world of healthcare IT and medical technology back in the UK. My role at Rentokil Initial has given me the chance to return to some of my roots when writing about wood-boring insect pests ... or is that boring Wood writing about insect pests?

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