Pest management has been one of the most active and operational services over the last 15 months. Evolving in tune to the present requirement of keeping facilities safe, pest management services has expanded to include hygiene and other others in the new era. Sivakumar Somasundaram, Director, IPM & President, Fumigation India, M Balagopal, Managing Director, Paws Pestaways Pvt Ltd and Vijay Ahluwalia, Director, Sterling Pest Control Services Pvt Ltd engage in a highly interactive discussion with Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal, organised to mark the World FM Day.
Who would have guessed that disinfection and pest control, the two seemingly disconnected services, would consolidate under pest management? Possibly, no one.
In his 25 years in pest control, Somasundaram remembers having performed hospital OT disinfection not more than three times. But in the past year alone, disinfection has become the mainstay of his pest management business.
When lockdown was imposed, only the pest management industry had the trained manpower and equipment available for disinfection. When municipal corporations took up the onus of disinfecting the homes of Covid-positive individuals, in several instances, it was pest management teams that actually carried out the process.
Somasundaram said: “We called experts for training in disinfection well before lockdown. In February 2020 itself, we were thoroughly educated about touchpoints and dwell time.”
“We called experts for training in disinfection well before lockdown. In February 2020 itself, we were thoroughly educated about touchpoints and dwell time.”
At least in the industrial sector, pest management was a standard procedure but today, it has evolved far beyond the regular. However, when it comes to disinfection, hypochlorite rules the roost, since many stakeholders are still unaware about the consequences of using it near machinery.
Balagopal said: “My team was given sodium hypochlorite by the client; only the labour and equipment were mine. The security officer had seen hypochlorite being sprayed on bus tires elsewhere and ordered the same to be done on bikes. Despite being told this wasn’t advisable, he insisted to my team that it be done. By the next day, all the bikes were damaged.”
The residential segment is much more difficult to service. With most people at home 24X7, there are no free windows. Ahluwalia said, “Sometimes, we are appalled by people who want a better price by compromising on safety. Some unorganised operators offer a rate that doesn’t even cover the cost of PPE.”
In this segment too, rampant, indiscriminate use of hypochlorite abounds, which may lead to savings on service costs but also causes discolouration of carpets, curtains and wooden doors.
Distressingly, there is little regard for the personnel who carry out disinfection. By insisting on a blind adherence to SOPs, some clients are leading personnel to have breathing problems caused by hypochlorite, made worse by the necessity to work inside PPE.
A lack of awareness is near universal. Some clients observe that both pest control and disinfection involve spraying, and ask why the same chemical cannot be used for both. Some fly-by-night operators are even using ‘disinfection cocktails’ by hypochlorite, lysol and other chemicals, and even advising others to use the same.
“Making pest management programs sustainable in the long run is a challenge.”
Regular services in irregular times
When industries went into lockdown, they cut down on all services, including pest control! This defies science, and cannot be done. Pest control is an essential, ongoing activity, and cannot be suspended or even reduced. While the safety-in-charge of a facility may understand this, the purchase department may not.
What does this lead to? In terms of pest infestation, it’s back to square one for the facility. Once it reopens, the occupants of departments unrelated to approving or disapproving pest services will immediately complain of snakes, mosquitoes and the like. As Balagopal said, “Making pest management programs sustainable in the long run is a challenge.”
“Sometimes, we are appalled by people who want a better price by compromising on safety. Some unorganised operators offer a rate that doesn’t even cover the cost of PPE.”
New PM curriculum
As always, pest management companies face an acute shortage of trained manpower. Even if someone joins from another company, retraining is required since there is no standard process across the board.
To overcome this problem, some stakeholders are collaborating with the government to develop a curriculum for technicians (220-230 hours), supervisors (50 hours) and managers (300+ hours). The courses will be practical-oriented, with different trainers for different categories. The aim is to develop a certified cadre that can work even in sensitive areas like the food industry.
The future of pest management
From hereon, disinfection will be an integral part of pest management services. Professional pest management companies will also handle sanitisation and disinfection, which will become part of their SOP. Over time, sustainability will become a factor in the choice of products used for the same.
Somasundaram stressed the need to integrate disinfection to the regular service schedule, available any time in the year. Also, gone are the days of handkerchiefs tied across the face while fogging; some of PPE will always be used henceforth.
While it may take some time for residential buildings to feel comfortable enough to allow service personnel into their homes, for commercial spaces to reopen and realise the need for regular pest control and for industries to take full advantage of this new, integrated pest management, pest management companies have their hands full with disinfection and sanitisation for the foreseeable future.