Association

20 August 2021

18 months on: essential pest management

BUSINESS | PPC104 AUGUST 2021

On 13 April 2020, George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), confirmed pest management was an essential sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time of writing, Covid-19 restrictions have been significantly eased across the UK. We thought it would be a great time to reflect on what we’ve learned from the pandemic.

We grabbed a few BPCA Executive Board members for a quick roundtable interview on the subject.

essential pest management 18 months on interview with BPCA board

Do you think the pest management sector stepped up during the pandemic?

JP: I think the pest sector rose to the challenge of protecting public health and businesses throughout the pandemic. Many of us continued to work throughout all lockdowns protecting the food industry, businesses, buildings and domestic customers.

MRK: Absolutely. For many years we’ve been reminding people that the value of our profession is understated. Working through the pandemic to help keep the public and businesses safe from other dangerous diseases has been challenging.

JP: VMany of us spent significant amounts of resources re-organising visits and talking to customers who were temporarily closed to gain access. We found buildings (with no previous history of pest problems) suddenly had infestations as rodents travelled further to source food.

PH: The sector, led by BPCA, was extremely proactive in getting advice out to members from the outset of the pandemic. When lockdown came into force, BPCA was at the forefront in lobbying for pest professionals to be recognised as key workers.

This was supported by members writing to their own MPs, and as a result, the sector got the recognition that pest management is an essential service.

Why is it essential for the general public and government bodies to know pest management is critical?

MW: Professional pest management is another cog in the gears that helps protect public health; if they break, ultimately, many more things break.

MS: It’s all about public health. Even in a pandemic, the UK needs food establishments to be free from rats and mice.

MRK: We play an integral part in the food chain by helping to keep food fit for consumption. We help to keep NHS sites running and free from pest-related diseases. We help to keep businesses and their products safe from damage. The list goes on.

JP: If pests are left uncontrolled, there’ll be an increased risk to food manufacturing, businesses – particularly the hospitality industry. In domestic homes, people may suffer mental health problems linked to uncontrolled pest activity.

PH: Less talked about is the negative effect on mental health that many people experience when suffering from a pest problem. Living with bed bugs or a rodent infestation can cause great anguish and anxiety, and effectively solving these infestations is essential to mental health.

Why wasn’t pest control specifically on the list of key workers in the first place?

MW: I think that’s a little unfair. There was a lot of chaos around the first lockdown, and we saw several sectors struggling for recognition and a role. I don’t think the government classifies workers by category based upon scenarios of war or pandemics.

PH: It’s probably purely down to the sector’s size and that we’re just not on the radar of many government departments.

There was a lot of chaos around the first lockdown, and we saw several sectors struggling for recognition and a role.

Mark Williams, Ecolab

MRK: Agreed. Decision-makers may simply not have been aware of our industry. Maybe this is because we don’t have one clear voice as a profession.

PH: If asked, I bet local authorities and environmental health would consider us essential. Public Health England would consider us essential, as would the National Health Service. The problem is we don’t just fit into ‘one box’, and our voice is quieter or our influence more diluted as a result.

JP: Pest control becomes an issue when there is an issue. If the pest control industry does its prevention job well, we stop pests from becoming an issue. If pests were running around visibly, then the industry would be more of a priority.

You could say we are a victim of our success! Pest control is very much seen as an environmental problem rather than a public health one.

MS: The sector must learn from this and lobby local authorities, governments, and the health sector with ‘proper’ facts. Ultimately we want them to contact us asking for our professional opinions.

MRK: When lobbying our MP as lockdowns were announced, we were asked to provide examples of what we do. At the time, we sent information about controlling cockroaches at a food bank and rats at a GP surgery, among a few other case studies. Our MP immediately began conversations in parliament fighting for pest control to be added.

Coordinating these actions with other BPCA members around the country and with the BPCA lobbying almost anyone with influence, we all managed to get our profession added. This should be a catalyst for us all to continue raising our industry’s profile.

What lessons should we as a sector take away from the pandemic?

MW: Digital is the future; the pandemic has given it the boost; it certainly challenged the status quo in how we all do business. The more successful businesses will get the balance right.

PH: For me, it’s recognising that anything can happen and that it’s essential to have contingency plans should a problem arise out of nowhere. I think we need to add unpredictable events such as a pandemic to our risk register!

I don’t think we, as a sector, could have done anything differently though, if a new pandemic or another disaster came along. We thought quickly on our feet and moved at pace when the various challenges presented themselves.

What is clear is that our voice is not quite loud enough, and a more proactive approach is required to raise the profile and visibility of the sector.

MRK: We did learn that if we work together, we have a strong voice!

The BPCA Staff Team cannot be praised enough for the support given to us all since this pandemic began.

Martin Rose-King, Bounty Consultancy Services

PH: BPCA’s member support was ‘award worthy’, and we can be proud of how the association supported its members throughout these times.

The team has adapted to new ways of working, which has not been easy for anyone. They have promoted the work of pest management companies at every opportunity and found time to create some exemplary guidance documents.

MRK: The BPCA Staff Team cannot be praised enough for the support given to us all since this pandemic began.

JP: I think we need to continue to show why pest control is an essential service. We need to improve the visibility of BPCA and the sector to local and national governments.

MS: That’s right. We need to be more critical in these governing bodies’ eyes.

JP: One of the issues we have is that the domestic market can access rodenticides, insecticides and glue boards. And then they can use them without training – in some cases very irresponsibly.

We need to show that pest control carried out professionally is safer for the environment and more humane for the animals involved.

LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS

How do you feel the last 18 months have gone for the industry? What lessons have you taken away from the pandemic? Share your views and we might print them in the next issue of PPC.

hello@bpca.org.uk

Source: PPC104

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