Do you remember where you were during the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster? It was a National tragedy and loss that affected all who remember that day. When you think of all the countless hours that went into preparations and how hundreds of technicians and scientists went over the vehicles every square inch- it just seems impossible something like that ever would happen. Nothing was left to chance and even a wayward bird or cloud could have scrubbed the mission. Everything was checked and rechecked again and with all systems go, the most heart wrenching event occurred just 73 seconds after take off. There wasn’t anything they could try again, there was nothing they could take back and no second chances. I have another reason for this day being etched into my mind and while I don’t pretend to compare the two in magnitude. I do contend that equally tragic accidents can happen if we don’t learn some lessons along our way.
I was pulling into the parking lot of a food distributor account listening to the broadcast on the radio when the unthinkable event unfolded. To say the least I was a bit distracted when I went inside to perform my weekly rodent control. The employees inside were just as dumbfounded and we all just went about our business quiet and numb. Still the route waits for no man and so as per usual I hurried through my service and pointed my truck towards its next stop.
Later that week my manager called me into the office for a bit of, eh-hmm, attitude adjustment. He had just received a phone call from the distributor canceling our service and the disgruntled client sited neglected glue boards filled with insects and covered with debris as the main reason. Since this was a weekly and frequently inspected account there should be no just cause for this and according to him, it had been going on for several weeks. My boss wasn’t thrilled at all with the development but one surprising aspect he brought up and I was in no position to refute was. “If you’re going to be that lackadaisical with glue boards that may at most cause a sticky mess, just what are you doing with baits and traps that are designed to kill?”
Now some 25 years later those words and that lesson are still fresh in my mind and though no great tragedy occurred with my actions, it is this kind of approach that is the perfect recipe for disaster.
It’s a Matter Of Time
Perhaps the number one issue with rodent control safety is time. With all the great advancements in our industry the one thing that hasn’t changed is busy routes and tight schedules. Whether it is good or bad, technicians learn quickly that pest control is a hustle job and getting the route done for the day and still managing to be home at a decent hour is a feat in of itself. Where trouble creeps in is when the temptation to quickly ‘throw something down’ so you make your next appointment creates room for a mistake or dangerous short cut.
I understand the urgency of a route and the pressures in the morning meetings when yours is behind. I know full well that customers famously hit you with a “we’ve seen some mice in the basement” at the end of your visit just as you’re walking out the door. (If this has happened to you then consider yourself lucky, that’s probably the most advanced notice you’ll get on any account that isn’t already a rodent call.) This is just par for the course in pest control work and while I have no answers in this writing for your schedule, I do have some advice for the time you take in dealing with rodents.
I don’t know any other service where the tech goes out to a home and pokes around more than an exterminator. Your head goes under the sink, behind the fridge and many places the home owner doesn’t see for years. Fortunately rodent evidence is one of the easiest things to spot in our business so even a semi thorough visit should reveal when a clients home is being shared by rodents. So there you are 10 minutes behind schedule with mouse droppings in the basement behind the washer and a few more under the stairs- what do you do? In your tool belt pouch you’ve got a couple of mangled up glue boards, a snap trap that smells of aerosol and a toss pack which is 1/2 full because it’s been torn. Any of these might serve as a quick fix and if asked you can always say you did something right?. Well, you’re the pro and each situation is different so I’ll have to believe that your training will allow you to devise the best on the spot treatment plan that is not only effective for the client but safe as well. For me, I’d bite the bullet of time and head out to my truck where hopefully my supply is clean and ready and perhaps even where I’d have more choices. I’d also make the decision that next time I wouldn’t be caught so off guard and ill prepared.
Being ready the night before is the best advice
No one can predict what’ll come up on a job but everyone can be prepared. If you would have peeked in your belt pouch the night before or took notice at the last account, you could have easily restocked your supply with something that would have been suitable for the task. If your truck was even fairly maintained you would know what you have on it and where it was. So even in the event that you had to take a few extra minutes to get the most effective and safest equipment out for the job, it’s just a few minutes and doing the right thing is always worth all the time in the world.
Wisdom Is Knowledge Applied.
Another seldom thought of but painfully obvious aspect of rodent control and safety issues is how you apply your knowledge. You may remember the biblical story of king Solomon who was basically told he could ask for anything his heart desired and it would be done. Instead of riches, fame or other such treasure he asked for just one thing- wisdom. He went on to astound the world with that wisdom and many of us would love to have even a small measure of what he displayed. We often miss a great point of this man however in that before you can have wisdom, you first need knowledge. Wisdom is the wise or right application of knowledge so without at least some intelligence he would have been just another wise old fool.
The same can be said of the technician who applies rodent control. For example, let’s say you have a rat in a typical garage. Anyone can throw a toss pack behind a cabinet in the corner. It’s easy to see the rat has been there and by the looks of things the large chest hasn’t been moved in years and perhaps this situation fits right in with some label recommendation you read once so you throw your bait behind it. So there you go, you’ve applied control measures given the client a receipt and you might even consider it a job well done. But the wise technician notices a for sale sign in the yard. He knows that the garage will be cleared just as soon as a ‘sold’ notice goes up and suddenly his baggy of poison will now be exposed which shoots down the “out of reach” phrase he read on that same label. Now it’ll anybodies guess as to how the person, pet or child will handle the bait when it is found. He decides to use a tamper resistant station or some other way and bada bing, a job done safer.
That’s just one example of the 1000’s of scenarios I could describe and you see everyday. One reason I love pest control so much is that no two jobs are alike and what you end up doing in one place may be totally different in another. The thing that stays the same however is keeping you and your clients safe with your application of knowledge. What I know about mice biology, labels and equipment here in Florida is the same as someone in Portland Oregon. They read the same labels I read, we peruse the same manufacturers magazines for products and equipment and we base our decisions and actions on the knowledge we have and continue to attain. That is knowledge applied (wisdom) and that is what our clients depend on us most for when dealing with rodents in a safe and effective manner.
Doing It Better
Hardly a week goes by where I don’t see rodent control measures inside a home that are let’s say- “less than safe.” Snap traps loaded with cheese or peanut butter next to the refrigerator, blocks of bait on the garage floor forgotten in the corner by the trash and even glue boards on the counter top right by the toaster. By far the most common “placement” I find is the little cardboard box filled with those delicious green pellets exposed for all the world to see. Rodents apparently really love these things because so often all that’s left of the bait is green dust at the bottom of the box. Now suddenly the homeowner is concerned because they’re finding green colored droppings around the home. “It must be a new breed of mice they have so maybe now it’s time to call the exterminator.” Naw- the cat’s getting em now since they seem to move so much slower-
When ever I hire a person to do work at my home I do so because I want it done better than I could do it myself. That company should have the tools, expertise and people with the know how who’ll take the time to get the job done and get it done right. My safety or that of my families never comes to mind when I watch a true professional at his craft. However it’s always first and foremost on my brain when the service person doesn’t seem to have a clue.
As pest control professionals we should strive to be better, take advantage of our training and feel a pride about our work. Safety is simply a bi product of a pro who knows and continues to learn his or her craft and seeks to excel. Safety is simply worth the time and effort and the right thing to do.