Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No such thing as an "ant"!

I'm convinced that training employees to document what they do is one of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of technician training in pest control. If you're doing your work well, you want your work documented in the service tickets and logs and other paperwork you leave behind.

One of the best indicators of a well-trained technician is careful and descriptive recording of pest problems encountered during a service visit. One of the signs of a careless or poorly trained technician is sloppy notes.

A carpenter ant is not just an antI first noticed this a few years ago when serving as an expert in lawsuits involving fire ant stinging accidents in nursing homes. As part of the discovery process, it was my job to go through service tickets and note when and where fire ants had been noted by the pest control company.

To my dismay, I found that there was no way to distinguish what the technicians had been doing during their many visits to the locations I researched. Notations on the service logs and service tickets would typically read "treated for ants". Wait a minute. There's no such thing as just an 'ant'. What kind of ants? Pharaoh ants would require applying one of a few effective protein-based baits designed for pharaoh ants. Odorous house ants might require a sugar-based bait. For fire ants an outdoor treatment and inspection would be necessary, along with use of broadcast fire ant baits or outdoor mound treatments. Without good documentation, one has to assume that the technician didn't really know (or care) what he was doing.

We encounter the same problem when reviewing service tickets left behind in public schools. The past few years my colleague Janet Hurley and I have visited a number of public schools in various states to audit their IPM programs. In the process we've seen many service tickets left behind by pest control technicians documenting pesticide applications for "ants", "roaches", "flies", etc. As anyone who has worked in the industry can tell you, identifying a potential pest to ordinal level doesn't really tell you much. There's a world of difference, for example, between finding a dozen German cockroach nymphs and an American cockroach in a sticky card in a previously cockroach-free commercial kitchen. Think potentially dozens of service hours and repeated callbacks if the problem is not caught early. There's no such thing as just a "roach".

Flies are another great example of why identification skills and documentation are so important. Fly control is based on finding and eliminating the site where the larval stages of the flies are breeding. House flies in a kitchen? Check the outdoor dumpster and the back door. Fruit flies typically involve spilled syrups, rotten fruits or vegetables. Phorid flies may indicate a sewer problem. The customer may not know the difference, but the technician should. And the technician should communicate with the customer, a process that starts with the service ticket. There's no such thing a just a "fly".

Documenting pesticide use is another issue that I will undoubtedly revisit on another day. But today, just remember that when it comes to quality pest control, "there's no such thing as an 'ant'!"


Jay Jorns, A.C.E. said...

Timely posting for staff training

bugchaser said...

The sad part of this is the owners and managers that allow this to contiunue. It puts them and the company at risk.