“Safety first!” As a pest management professional, you’ve probably heard and uttered this phrase more times than you can count. Although it may seem like a tired concept, safety on the job is more important and relevant than ever. Why? Because workplace injuries and deaths are on the rise.
In 2016, 5,190 U.S. workers were killed on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s a 7 percent increase from 4,836 fatal work injuries reported in 2015. This is why it is critical for pest management leaders to ensure their staff members are following proper safety standards at all times.
“The most important thing a leader can do is make sure that their employees are returning home safe to their families,” says Sara Cromwell, human resources manager with Abell Pest Control. “As pest management professionals, we’re passionate about protecting the public’s health; that must be extended to our employees too.”
Chris Gorecki, VP of operational support for Rollins Inc., reflects that sentiment. “Ensuring safety standards are followed protects the technician, the customer and their family and/or employees and even their structure or property,” he emphasizes. “In addition, actively engaging and promoting safety and safe work practices demonstrates to all that we care for our most important asset: our people.”
Keep reading to learn a few essential safety tips that could ultimately save an employee’s life.
Climbing the ladder with care
Ladders are one of the most dangerous hazards for workers, including pest management professionals. “More than 700 ladder injuries occur every day—that’s almost 255,000 injuries annually,” points out Claire Sereiko, senior marketing coordinator with the American Ladder Institute (ALI).
Founded in 1947, ALI is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to promoting safe ladder use. “Missing the last step and overreaching were the two most cited issues as the cause for ladder accidents in 2016,” Sereiko adds. “Ladder accidents can be easily avoided by taking precautionary actions of basic ladder safety prior to ladder use.”
According to ALI, the top five causes of ladder accidents are as follows:
1. Missing the last step of the ladder when climbing down.
How to prevent it: Exercise caution when climbing down a ladder. Always face the ladder when climbing up or down, and don’t skip steps.
2. Overreaching while on the ladder.
How to prevent it: When working from a ladder, keep your center of gravity and body between the side rails. If you can’t easily reach the project area once you have ascended the ladder, climb down the ladder and move the ladder closer to your project area.
3. The ladder was not the right size for the job.
How to prevent it: One of the factors in determining the right ladder for the job is length. A good rule of thumb when selecting a ladder is to calculate a person’s maximum reach height, which is approximately four feet higher than the height of the ladder.
4. The ladder was not on firm, level ground.
How to prevent it: Clear trash, construction materials and other obstructions away from the base and top of the ladder. The base of the ladder should be safely secured to prevent accidental movement. You can also use a ladder with non-slip feet or add outriggers or levelers to the bottom of an extension ladder to increase the footprint.
5. Three points of contact were not used when climbing the ladder.
How to prevent it: When climbing up or down a ladder, always maintain three points of contact: two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand. This allows you to maintain your balance.
Cromwell adds that it’s important to determine the height of areas that will need to be treated before going to a customer’s house or office. “If we need to enter the attic or access the roof, how tall is that area? This allows us to bring the right ladder for the job (or potentially another individual to help with the call),” she explains. “If we have brought the wrong ladder, it can be tempting to use our client’s ladder; but you must resist the urge. A client’s ladder may be in poor condition or the wrong grade for the individual. It’s hard to tell a customer you’ll have to come back another day, but your safety is most important. Ladder accidents can be fatal.”
Safe spill cleanup
Another on-the-job hazard that is somewhat unique to PMPs is pesticide spills. “Pesticide spills should be cleaned up as soon as possible and stored and disposed of per label requirements,” says Gorecki. “Remember the three Cs: Safely control the spill, contain the spill and clean up the spill. If it is a large-scale spill, one should try to either stop or contain the spill and contact both their local authorities such as the county emergency management office and their supervisor.”
To ensure your employees can respond rapidly and effectively to spills, you might consider holding pesticide spill drills. “Practicing cleaning spills allows you to act quickly and confidently if you spill pesticide when on the job,” says Cromwell. “We have our employees practice cleaning spills at branch meetings among their peers during safety discussions. Vehicle inspections should also include physically inspecting that spill kits are complete and easily accessible,” she adds.
Responsible respirator use
In the pest management field, it’s vital to ensure employees know how to properly wear and use respirators.
“In order to wear a respirator, each employee must first be medically cleared to do so by a health professional and pass an annual fit test prior to being allowed to wear one,” explains Gorecki, who adds that a fit test should not be confused with a seal check. “A Fit Test tests the seal between the respirator’s face piece the user’s face. A user seal check is a quick check performed by the wearer each time the respirator is put on. It is the way to determine if the respirator is properly seated to the face or needs to be adjusted.”
Cromwell agrees, saying it’s essential for pest management leaders to provide proper respirator training and recertification to both new and existing employees. “All our employees who are required to wear a respirator must complete fit-testing on an annual basis for each type of respirator they may be using,” she says. “We take our employees’ safety very seriously and want to ensure they are not just provided with the right equipment, but also understand how to use it.”
In 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Today, OSHA continues to ensure U.S. workers have safe, healthy working conditions by setting and enforcing safety standards and providing ongoing training, education and assistance.
Gorecki says it’s crucial for pest management leaders to stay on top of OSHA regulations and remain in compliance with them. “Training and documentation are key,” he says. “Managers must remain aware of OSHA requirements and ensure all employees are not only properly trained, but that all training is documented.”
To stay informed about OSHA regulations and other changing laws, Cromwell suggests that pest management managers join local safety councils comprised of local business leaders. “They are a great start to the day, often occurring as a breakfast with a dedicated speaker who helps keep you on top of new health and safety regulations. They are frequently followed by a roundtable discussion for networking,” she explains.
Safe and sound
As workplace injuries and deaths skyrocket across the nation, it’s more important than ever to implement a strong safety program for your pest management business.
“Leaders must be as invested in promoting a safe culture as they are in promoting a sales and growth culture,” says Cromwell. “Failure to maintain a safe workplace impacts the company culture, retention rates, company reputation and your Workers’ Compensation rates. Working safely just makes sense for everyone.”
“Whether it’s driving a vehicle, applying a chemical treatment or climbing a ladder, our people are at risk every day,” Gorecki adds. “Therefore, maintaining and promoting a high level of safety needs to be a core goal of every company.”
He says everyone in the company—from the highest levels of management to the lone technician servicing a customer—must remain vigilant when it comes to safety. “Our goal is for every employee to return home to their loved ones every single night the same way they left for work that morning,” he stresses. “Having an active and robust safety program helps us achieve that goal.”
By Amy Bell