Every pest control company wants its employees to remain safe, and effective planning and training can safeguard all involved. While laws and regulations are in place to protect workers, setting up a robust safety program that includes company investment, preparedness, identifying potential hazards and continuous training that fosters employee buy-in is the key to excellent safety performance, two industry safety experts said.
“Safety is not separate from operations. Safety is integrated into everything we do,” said Sean O’Bryan, managing director of safety for Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., the nation’s largest pest control company with over $2 billion in revenue. “It’s about building a relationship and trust. Employee trust is the basis for a lasting commitment to safety excellence.”
Richard Spencer, vice president of safety and risk management for Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators, the eighth-largest pest control company in the nation and the second-largest family-owned firm in the business, agrees.
“At Arrow, our safety culture starts with our owners,” Spencer said. “It is not lip service, but a true investment in safety.” That involved starting a Safety Committee and Safety Department, investing in meaningful training, always aiming for continuous improvement, empowering team members to stop work if conditions are unsafe and rewarding team members for safety excellence, he explained.
Safety coaches at each of Arrow’s 156 locations are paid a quarterly stipend, while field team members who are free from at-fault vehicle incidents during the entire fiscal year receive a reward, Spencer said. “It shows team members that the company is financially committed to their individual safe practices,” he said. O’Bryan noted that Rollins uses its President’s Club as one tool to recognize top frontline safety leaders.
Worker safety begins with following federal, state and local regulations. On the federal side, that means formulating an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plan to ensure that team members are kept safe while on company time, as well as following Environmental Protection Agency rules, they said.
“Building an OSHA safety plan starts with knowing your own business,” Spencer explained. “Our company offers wildlife, handyman, gutters, general pest and termite services, as well as lawn services. You must look at each type of service and determine the hazards. For example, we look at OSHA’s general worker safety standards, but because of some of our business, we also implement training related to construction standards, like fall arrest and ladder safety.” Both safety leaders said regulations are only the beginning. “We believe in safety because it’s the right thing to do, not because it is required by regulation,” O’Bryan said. Spencer added: “You need to go the extra mile. You must put team members in a mindset that allows them to manage any safety hazard—expected or unexpected.”
And the unexpected often happens in pest control management, they said. Spencer detailed one incident when an Arrow team member “opened the back gate of a Florida client’s home only to find an eight-foot alligator with its jaws open,” Spencer said. “Thankfully, he relied on his general safety training to deal with the situation appropriately.”
“It starts with being prepared,” O’Bryan added. “A strong safety culture focuses on prevention and rewards participation and problem solving to mitigate those risks, even the unexpected.”
Arrow’s four-member safety team “grew up” in the industry, each having spent years in the field. This allows them to understand the known safety risks and incorporate each into their OSHA-required safety plan. “But we know that the industry changes and the hazards faced can change,” he said. “For that reason, we have an open-door policy. We want everyone to report new safety challenges and risks, and we empower our team members to make the safe decision. They are always able to step back, text, call or use to explain the situation to a manager. The manager can talk it through with them or come out to the site. Maybe it’s a determination that they need to stop a job. The bottom line is it’s always about safety first.”
Safety is a process, not a plan. “It requires constant evaluation and the necessary resources to drive improvement,” O’Bryan added. Like anything in business, safety also should be measured. “However, just don’t measure and respond to reported injuries and collisions,” he said. “Take the time to build a more proactive measurement system—one that tracks near-miss events, hazards, safety meetings, training or corrected findings from inspections and field observations.”
Rollins is taking an innovative approach to consistently identify and avoid hazards. The company’s safety protocol begins at the point of “selling the job,” he said. As a salesperson scopes out the work even before a contract is signed, he or she will walk the site, looking up and down for potential hazards, whether nearby electric lines, tree branches, sprinkler heads, pipes or even a hole that a technician might fall into and sprain an ankle, O’Bryan explained. If the hazards cannot be controlled, the salesperson, in consultation with a manager, can tell the customer that it is unsafe for the company to perform the job, he said.
“We are on roofs, we are in attics, we are underneath homes and in trees. We are where the pests are,” he said. This early safety intervention allows us to determine what we must do to find the safest approach to each job,” he said.
Pre-job hazard identification is essential, but it is meaningless if that information is not communicated to the appropriate people, specifically the work crew or technician who will perform the service, O’Bryan said. “Our big challenge—and a focus of our ongoing safety strategy—is standardizing the communication of risk.”
O’Bryan explained that one of its wildlife brands now integrates inspections into every one of its service agreements, giving the technician the ability to pull up the hazard-awareness form prior to the job. Another subsidiary includes it in the work order, he said.
“All crews are required to walk the site—even before a single piece of equipment is removed from the vehicle—to find and verify each hazard and look for any others, O’Bryan added.
This approach not only ensures safety, but it helps operationally and reputationally, he explained. “Say you are doing wildlife exclusion work and you have multiple points of service along the roofline of the residence. If a work crew gets to the house only to find that electrical lines are too close to the house to safely use a ladder, they will have to stop work or perhaps tell the homeowners that the crew can only work on select areas of the house. The result is that if you can’t do the job you were hired to do, you leave the customer unsatisfied or you could have put your crew in a potentially unsafe situation,” O’Bryan said. A thorough pre-sales inspection identifies the hazards and allows the sales associate to fully explain the situation to the customer to see if they want to move forward, knowing that the entire house might not be treated, he noted.
Spencer agrees that starting safety early is imperative. While OSHA regulations require new team member training and ongoing training for existing team members, Arrow Exterminators goes a step further by asking potential job seekers questions about safety in job interviews. “Perhaps we might ask them to describe an unsafe situation on a previous job, and what they did about it, or introduce a hypothetical about a hazard they might face,” he explained. “This helps let them know— before they even start a job—that safety is a core value of our company. They know that we expect them to keep safety top of mind and that every team member from executive leadership on down has a role to play.”
Arrow sends out weekly safety messages to every one of its team members in the company’s 156 locations, Spencer said. The four-person corporate safety team comes up with the topic. The safety coach at each location finds ways to engage the team in the safety conversation. Each location has a safety coach. “It might be as simple as asking an industry veteran: What have you done in this situation? We bring our teams together once a week in person, and this topic is discussed,” he said.
Arrow began the safety coach role at each office in 2014, at the initiative of one of its managers, who was asked to present the idea to the safety committee and received a companywide innovation award, Spencer said. Arrow’s weekly meetings include 15-20 minutes on safety and the balance on operational issues.
Positive employee engagement is the key to safety, O’Bryan said. Rollins not only trains and reminds employees about driving hazards like speeding, fatigue or distracted driving but uses technology to help drivers evaluate and self-correct unsafe habits every day. “Driving scores are also made public within each team, which nurtures a fun but competitive spirit, which in turn fosters the culture you want to achieve,” he added. “It’s not about perfection, it’s about continuous improvement.”
Both companies seek to align their continuing employee training seasonally—for example, distracted driving in April, heat illness prevention in May and hurricanes in the summer. While OSHA requires training, the goal is to keep safety top of mind every day, they said.
O’Bryan and Spencer said NPMA and QualityPro are playing a big role in advancing safety throughout the industry. In 2017, NPMA and QualityPro created a Joint Safety Task Force to revise the QualityPro accreditation standards that pertain to safety and recommend resources that NPMA can offer. The task force’s work can be seen in QualityPro Version 6 standards, resources, and the association convened its first safety summit in 2021. While the Task Force’s work is now complete, the effort has created a group of safety professionals that continue to support each other and the industry. “That’s the right direction. It allows us to discuss safety challenges, and work together to share best practices and give each other advice and help,” O’Bryan said. The group is excited to be a part of the next NPMA Safety Summit happening May 4-5, 2023, in Orlando, FL.
“Safety is leadership born; employee-led,” O’Bryan concluded. “It involves participation from all in identifying risks and addressing them. And it involves consistency and a dedication to helping everyone in the industry keep employees safe.”