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The impact of COVID-19 on pest professionals

02 October 2020

As the global impact of COVID-19 continues, Daniel Groves believes that stopping pest professionals from being able to work makes little sense. So, how exactly has the pandemic affected pest professionals and how have companies in this sector had to adapt?

BUSINESSES ON a global scale have been impacted by COVID-19 and the effects of lockdown. However, for some industries, the impact has been even more significant – for example, pest professionals have found themselves unable to work throughout lockdown which has not only affected these businesses but also created a host of problems for other industries as well. 

Many pest control companies had to close during lockdown. Alarmingly, pest control was not considered a vital service during lockdown, even with hygiene being such a huge priority. 

“A lack of foresight in the early days of the pandemic meant the government forced pest control services to close,” said Mark Stanford of Empire Pest Control. “This was a huge mistake, and businesses have been paying the price. If left unchecked, pests can cause a significant amount of damage and the infestation could worsen, making it more difficult to get the situation under control”.

In addition to affecting pest control companies, there is the dual issue that by stopping pest control professionals from working, the problem of pest infestations is also now on the rise.

Because pest professionals have been unable to work for several months as a result of COVID-19, it’s now a bigger job to remove pests from the likes of hotels, offices and commercial kitchens. With so many commercial premises opening after months of being left vacant, the issue of infestations is larger and more difficult to tackle.

Pest control is vital during COVID-19
With businesses closed for months, pests have had free reign. This will be even more likely in premises where goods have been stored and unmonitored for much of 2020 due to closures, such as warehouses or kitchens and food preparation areas. 

Pests can cause immense damage to stock, which in turn can cost businesses an enormous amount of money to replace. Many business owners are now returning to work and finding that their premises are overrun with pests – not only is this a problem for a business’ reputation but it can also be incredibly costly and lead to financial ramifications that weren’t planned for. 

As more and more companies open up following lockdown, there will no doubt be a rise in the need of pest control services for their premises. There are many types of pests present in urban settings around the world and they are commonly carriers of disease, which can contaminate food supplies and cause physical damage to property and buildings. 

In fact, the World Health Organization lists more than 30 pathogenic bacteria, germs and viruses which can be spread by rodents and parasites alone. What’s more, other pests such as birds, cockroaches, flies and fleas can pose a health and economic threat, causing a problem for manufacturing plants, medical facilities and hospitals, education premises, accommodation and many more sectors. With the public so fearful of disease and more vigilant of poor hygiene now, these risks need to be minimised as much as possible if companies are to continue to operate. 

Pest professionals have had to change how they work
Much like many industries around the world, pest professionals have had to adapt to work differently in order to adhere to the guidelines set out by governments. 
For example, social distancing is now vital in order to keep employees and customers safe. It’s more important than ever that hygiene precautions are taken to minimise the spread of bacteria and viruses too. 

The pandemic has presented the world with a threat unlike anything we’ve experienced before, and it has forced us all to work more flexibly in order to meet the health and safety regulations and prevent a second wave of the virus. 

From using PPE to protect staff and minimise the spread of germs to using higher-quality cleaning products that can disinfect more thoroughly, there are various ways that pest control businesses need to operate now to stay protected and contribute towards a safer environment. 

Pest control may not be an industry you immediately think of as being digitally-focused, but along with many other businesses around the world, companies have had to take their services online in order to continue working but stay safe at the same time. 

Businesses have had to make use of online communication tools to keep in touch with clients, as well as making sure that customer details are stored safely and accessibly so that everyone can access them when necessary. This is something that pest professionals have had to adopt as well in order to provide their services and keep customers informed of their business. 

Re-thinking relationships with clients
The most important thing for pest professionals to consider is how to keep employees and customers safe at all times. This means rethinking the relationship between businesses and clients and how companies can operate in order to maintain these relationships without putting anyone at risk. 

One way to achieve this in light of the coronavirus is by making fewer site visits and more video calls with clients to minimise the number of in-person meetings while still allowing staff to provide a great service. Instead of sending paperwork or documents to clients, these can also be sent digitally, which is not only a safer option but also more convenient for the client. 

Where interior services are being offered, further precautions need to be taken. It can be beneficial to have customers submit a pre-service screening questionnaire which can ensure that those on-site during a visit are free from illness and also to ensure that customers will adhere to distancing guidelines and cleanliness requirements.  

Safety assessments have become even more important
Pest control professionals are familiar with having to work to strict guidelines in order to stay safe, but those regulations have been extended even further as a result of the pandemic. Safety assessments are now even more important, not only to prevent exposure to chemicals and products but also to reduce to risk of contracting the disease. 

Pest control businesses need to work closely with clients to find ways to cause minimal disruption while also carrying out their work efficiently. It’s also more important now that workers have the appropriate PPE so that they are protected and can keep others safe in turn. 

Managing risks during site visits
Before making a site visit, businesses will benefit from keeping customers up to date as things progress, such as calling ahead to make sure nothing has changed from the customer’s perspective and reminding them of the appointment. 

It can also be useful to use online booking tools so that customers can get estimates, book appointments and make payments without needing to risk person-to-person contact. 

Where physical site visits are needed, there are ways that pest control professionals can meet safety requirements and carry out their work without posing a risk. Along with keeping a 2m distance from others wherever possible, it’s also a good idea to discuss this with the client beforehand so that they are aware that staff will require social distancing to be in place to stay safe. 

This can include asking clients to keep internal doors open to minimise direct contact with door handles and make moving within the premises much easier. Professionals should wash their hands regularly with soap and water, as well as washing their hands immediately upon entering and leaving the client’s site. 
Another way that pest control staff can protect themselves going forward is to take breaks outside and not consume food and drinks on-site, only drinking or eating food that they have brought with them themselves where necessary. 

When possible, businesses should liaise with clients digitally or over the phone, even if they are on the same site, as this will prevent the need to stand too close to one another while still enabling them to work effectively. For situations where this is not possible, staff should speak to clients outside or in well-ventilated rooms while still maintaining a distance. 

Taking precautions away from the site
It’s important to remember that health and safety doesn’t stop being a priority once staff are off-site. Social distancing should still be maintained between staff and where possible, employees should work in bubbles to prevent germs being spread between teams. 

It’s also a good idea to thoroughly clean and disinfect vehicles upon leaving a site so that the vehicle is safe to get back into for the next visit. A robust cleaning regimen should be a core element of any COVID-19 prevention strategy, and this includes pest control equipment, PPE and vehicles, as well as any items or products that staff or clients have touched during a site visit. 

Pest control could become even more important
Public health is important at all times, but especially now, which is why pest management professionals are now being recognised as key workers. It’s believed that pest management will be even more important going forward, particularly now that food preparation premises and restaurants have started to open up again. 
From rodents to birds, insects to invasive species, there are various types of pests that can affect a business and ruin a reputation which could be devastating to any business. 

Following the closure of these types of business, there have been increasing reports of rats and pigeons from the public which is a result of these premises being left vacant and unmanaged for such a long time. 

With the warmer weather, it’s incredibly important that we all dispose of waste in an appropriate manner in order to prevent pests from infesting homes and businesses. Now that businesses are prioritising hygiene more, pest control will undoubtedly become a vital issue that needs to be maintained. Pests carry diseases and have the potential to with coronavirus, so it’s critical that they are kept at bay and prevented from infesting buildings, food storage and medical facilities so as not to risk further spread of the disease. 

Final thoughts
The pest control industry has been hit hard by the implications of coronavirus, but now that lockdown is being lifted and life is beginning to return to a new normal, businesses need to find ways to adapt in order to stay afloat during this time. 

There are ways for pest control professionals to work safely and still provide a great service to customers, but it does require flexibility and a focus on health and safety in order to keep everyone involved protected. 

Daniel Groves is an independent business growth consultant.