Enlist Your Plant Floor Workers in the Fight Against Pests

March 22, 2021
A properly trained workforce can help make pest control programs as effective as possible.

Even the most conscientious pest control contractor can visit a food plant floor only so often. That’s why, in the battle against pests, it’s important to enlist those who are there every day.

Floor workers are a plant’s first line of defense against bugs and other unwanted visitors. With the right training and proper procedures in place, workers can play a significant role in preventing, detecting and taking action against pests.

“Plant floor workers can play an integral role in pest management at food processing plants,” says Desiree Straubinger, market technical director for Rentokil. “Since they are there every day, they will be able to notice things that are out of the ordinary.”

Broadly speaking, when it comes to pest control, workers can and should be trained to report two things: the presence of pests inside a plant and the existence of conditions that could lead to infestation.

Workers should be instructed to warn about the presence of pests or their droppings, pest control contractors say. It’s important because they have eyes on places that contractors normally don’t.

“Many times, production and maintenance workers are the only personnel to see the inside of equipment during sanitation or repairs, which can harbor pests or food debris that can lead to issues,” says Myron Baumann, a partner of of P&M Pest Consulting.

“One example that comes to mind was a dust collector where the baffle above the sock filters cracked and supported a large population of cigarette beetles," he continues. "Because the employees knew what to look for, it helped me locate a problem I would not have found without them.”

Reporting should be a default position – if you see something, say something. This approach can be refined by telling them what specific kinds of pests, like cockroaches and rodents, are especially liable to appear. Once a sighting is made and reported, the contractor can decide how to respond.

“For example, ants outside in a smoking area should be addressed, but may not require same-day service,” Baumann says. “A cockroach in a production area, on the other hand, will require an elevated sense of urgency and service.”

Reporting should also include information such as the time, exact location, the nature of the surroundings and other conditions, especially unusual ones. It should be systematized, with a standard procedure, a log and, ideally, an in-house person designated to receive the information.

“There needs to be a system of reporting in place,” says Frank Meek, technical services director for Orkin Pest Control. “All reports should be funneled to a central person or office. That way the same insect seen by 10 people does not result in 10 separate calls for service.”

A good relationship between plant personnel and contractors is a vital aspect of a pest-control program. Photo: Orkin

It’s also important for contractors to be able to communicate with floor workers directly and extemporaneously during their visits.

“Often the pest management professional will ask for input from staff as they service the facility,” says Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services. “Plant staff should openly discuss their pest observations with the pest management technician.”

Problem points

Beyond reporting pests, workers should be trained in anti-pest procedures and practices. This should include identifying points in the operation that are especially liable to pose problems and instructing workers what to do about them. Typical points requiring such attention include receiving and handling shipments, especially bulk ingredients, and sanitation procedures.

When it comes to shipments, workers need two things: training in what to look for and time to do it. Training should be specific to the kind of shipment, like looking for rodents between stacked pallets or sampling products like flour that are especially prone to infestation. It’s especially important to determine if any incoming ingredients are infested before they get accepted and stored, Hottel says; otherwise, it can be impossible to establish liability.

Floor workers often have eyes on hidden places in a plant that pest control contractors may never see. Photo: Orkin

Sanitation cycles should be matched to general conditions and should take into account the type of pest most likely to appear at a given spot, Baumann says. For instance, cleaning an outdoor garbage bin or trash compactor every week can be very effective in stopping flies; cutting that back to every two weeks will allow flies to build up. “Matching the sanitation cycle to the potential pests and conditions can greatly reduce pest pressure,” he says.

More generally, workers should be aware of, and told to report, any kind or problematic practice that could lead to pest problems.

“Plant floor workers are the ‘boots on the ground’ and will discover conditions for pest activity before anyone else, so they should be aware of their surroundings, fix problems they find or report them,” says Alex Blahnik, field training manager at Wil-Kil Pest Control.

Workers should also be trained not to do certain things during sanitation procedures, such as leaving pools of water on floors. Sometimes this will require rethinking some parts of what has become standard procedure.

“Waste sometimes accumulates in production areas for extended periods of time in open containers, and then is trundled through clean areas on its way to disposal or staging areas,” says Jerry Heath, product manager and staff entomologist for Industrial Fumigant Co. (IFC). Other bad practices include improperly storing waste material collected for animal feed or other purposes and allowing spillage around outdoor bins and compactors.

“Nobody wants to spend money on wastes, but improvements in this area could improve quality and save money on other expenses,” Heath says.

What not to do

There are certain other things floor workers should be trained not to do with respect to pests. One of the most important is not to try to take care of the problem themselves.

When workers see pests, they might be tempted to try to get rid of them with cleaning chemicals. This is a bad idea for many reasons.

“Employees should always be trained not to take matters into their own hands when dealing with an infestation,” Baumann says. “Do not attempt to treat the issue with concoctions created out of cleaners and sanitizers – and yes, I have seen that done.” The problem is that even if the chemicals repel the pests at that particular location, they’ll likely just move elsewhere within the plant.

In addition, workers should be trained to leave alone the traps and other detection/prevention equipment installed by the pest contractor. There have been cases where workers have actually used mousetraps as doorstops.

In general, once a contractor has been hired, involving workers directly in a pest control program is a bad idea. There may be a temptation to get them doing routine tasks, such as monitoring traps. IFC’s Heath calls that “some of the worst things for plant workers to do!”

The problem, contractors say, is that floor workers can’t bring the same level of training and attention to detail as someone working for a pest control company. In addition, many modern traps and other pest control equipment have remote monitoring capability, which is faster and more reliable than human monitoring, no matter who does it.

“Food companies should concentrate on their core business of food products,” Heath declares flatly. “Pest management is specialized and has too many aspects of necessary documentation, regulatory compliance and safety that could become a minefield if too many amateurs get involved.”

Orkin’s Meek, however, allows that there may be a role for floor workers to monitor traps and perform other tasks under the right circumstances. “Some audit schemes allow for this in between the pest management professional visits. If this is considered, the person at the facility doing this must understand the full context of the data needed and be consistent in the recording of the data in order for it to be useful to help prevent issues.”

Contractor training

Whether or not floor workers are incorporated into actively carrying out pest-control tasks, it’s important that they be trained and made to buy into the whole idea of keeping pests out.

“Most pest control professionals have a passion for training about their craft,” says Rentokil’s Straubinger. “Building a partnership between the pest control provider is important and can help the workers better understand prevention, identification and exclusion opportunities. The better armed the plant workers are, the better to be able to spot changes in their plant that could invite in pests.”

A contractor should offer hands-on training, or at least training materials, for floor workers. Hottel notes that, like many other things during the pandemic, this can be done online, although she adds: “In-person training can provide the opportunity for some hands-on identification and demonstrations, which may be more difficult when online training is done.”

Pests can appear in a food or beverage plant almost literally anywhere, and keeping up with them can be a challenge for any contractor. But the right kind of training can put many more pairs of eyes in the plant to detect the first signs of pest trouble.

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