Feature articles

01 March 2022

Environmental Risk Assessments and how to deal with them

Technical | PPC106

“Don’t roll the dice when it comes to protecting the planet; always do environmental risk assessments”, says BPCA Head of Technical, Dee Ward-Thompson. In this article she takes it back to basics and explains what ERAs are and why it’s important to carry them out. 

environmentalriskassessments

After over 17 years in the pest management industry, and too many years being involved with controlling pests in other professions (no guessing how old I am, please), the term I hear uttered with most dread is ‘environmental risk assessments’. 

The adjectives used to describe these are always negative: confusing, stressful, worrying, concerning, to name just a few. 

Why do these three words cause such strong reactions? Is it the paperwork, the evaluation, or are we overcomplicating something that we do naturally in our everyday lives?

When I was a child my father taught me a very valuable lesson, one which I have carried with me throughout my life: when something is confusing, break it down - when something is stressful, hit it head on. 

So let’s do just that. Let’s break down these three words and hit them head on.

Environmental
adjective   /ɪnˌvaɪ.rənˈmen.təl/

The adjective ‘environmental’ is used in so many ways; we hear it, and the noun ‘environment’, almost daily and it can have many definitions, but at its most simplistic, it’s just our surroundings. 

When we think about the environment we associate it with our planet, normally in relation to what we’re doing to damage it.

Our use of plastics and chemicals, our industrial progression, our construction - all of these have an impact on our natural surroundings. 

World leaders are formulating plans, urging us to change. We’re all trying to reduce the negative impacts we have on our surroundings to save our planet. 

When we think about impacts to our environment, pest management plays a role. We use chemicals, we create waste plastic, waste packaging and we use things in our daily activities that could have negative impacts.

RISK
noun   /rɪsk/

‘Risk’, like the word ‘environment’, is something we’re equally familiar with as pest technicians.

If we strip it down to its most basic meaning, it’s a situation involving exposure to harm or danger. The legal definition is ‘any potential danger that threatens to harm or destroy an object, event or person’. 

Risk evaluation is so instinctive that we tend to forget how often we do it. 

We ‘take a risk’ every time we get in our cars, walk down the street, take a chance on love, or even walk down the stairs in the morning. And if you have a dog like mine that leaves toys on the stairs, you would know what a risk that is! 

My point is that we do it without even thinking; it’s a crucial survival mechanism.

ASSESSMENT
noun   /əˈses.mənt/

‘Assessment’ is the action of evaluating someone or something. It’s the process of gathering and discussing information from different sources. 

When we associate assessment with risk, then its meaning changes slightly. The definition of a ‘risk assessment’ is a systematic process of identifying hazards and evaluating any associated implications. 

We then need mitigation measures to reduce risks to an acceptable level, or ‘residual risk’ as it is more commonly known. 

Without sounding like a worn-out record, this form of assessment, just like with risk, is something we do so naturally that we don’t even know we’re doing it. 

When we get in our vans, we evaluate the risks and mitigate constantly: how we drive, the speed we travel, and the focus we put into driving from A to B, is all ‘risk assessment’. 

We may not consciously think about it that way but that is what we’re doing.

environmentalriskassessments2

Put it together

So, now that we’ve broken down the words, what does it all mean?

Firstly, we need to put it all together again with some meaning. Environmental risk assessments evaluate anything that can cause harm or danger to our surroundings, whether that’s the chemicals we use, other products or even just our actions. 

Remember, hazards and risks are anything that can cause harm or danger, and we should evaluate the likelihood of this happening. We need to think about our tasks and their impacts on our surroundings. 

The important thing to note is: this is not just about rodenticide use. 

Every day that you go to work as a pest management professional you’ll evaluate the impact your actions or activities will have on your surroundings.

Dee Ward-Thompson, BPCA Head of Technical

Absolutely, we need to do an ERA if we’re choosing to use a rodenticide. As professionals we’re legally bound to, as it is specified on the label.

But, whatever the task, we should alway evaluate the risks to our surroundings.

Protecting our surroundings and our environment is our moral and ethical responsibility.

Now that we’ve established what an ERA is, and when and why we should be doing it, how does it all come together in practice?

Try not to overthink it; just draw on your natural instincts, let them guide you through the process. Every day that you go to work as a pest management professional you’ll evaluate the impact your actions or activities will have on your surroundings.

These can include risks to non-targets animals, including birds of prey, scavenging birds, other birds and mammals. 

If you’ve identified a risk to birds, you mitigate this by using a bait formulation that won’t spill. You’ll use only tamper resistant bait boxes and ensure you visit regularly to remove carcasses. 

If you decide on traps you’ll ensure they are in appropriate areas, that they are secured and that no protected species have been reported. 

When called to treat a wasp nest you’ll make sure there is no water close by and that the ground is not contaminated during treatment.

Tools to help

Templates can be useful as a guide, listing all of the risks that could potentially be on each site. 

Mitigation measures, such as using tamper resistant bait boxes, using traps before rodenticides, recommendations before choosing chemicals, frequently checking for rodent bodies, disposing of them safely – all of these can be included on your templates or even on reports for clients. 

These measures will help reduce the impact that your treatment plan could have on the environment.

The final part of the puzzle is to reach a conclusion, so ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have you assessed potential environmental impacts and risks to non-target species?
  2. Have you considered how carrying out treatment could affect the environment and ensure risks to non-target species are minimised?
  3. Can you justify your chosen actions, both legally and morally? 

Hopefully, by following this process, you can answer yes to all of those questions.

By taking a pause and thinking, you’ll satisfy yourself that you are doing your best to protect the environment you work in.

In doing so, you also demonstrate to clients that you have a legal, moral and ethical outlook; you’ll show them how professional pest managers protect the world around us.

Looking for risk assessment templates? 

BPCA members have access to free templates and tools in the member document library.

bpca.org.uk/library (login required)

Source: PPC106

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