The Hatred of Masks and Safety

The current resistance to masks found abundantly everywhere isn’t the first time I’ve encountered refusal to wear them. Only last time the masks were directly for the benefit of the wearer.

In fact, literally all of the safety equipment meant to be worn for Pest Control was ignored by fellow technicians to the point I became known in a company that spanned the country as the ‘technician who actually wears the safety gear’.

Sounds nuts, doesn’t it?

Even I had trouble believing it, until being sent on a remote three day training course with other techs from all around the country. One worked on a few of those little islands that hang about the outskirts of mainland Britain. Some of his clients were on an island that only had one flight to and from a week. He’d board the small plane with everything he thought needed for the day, having to be done in time to fly back again that night.

During a conversation one night at the bar, he said, “Oh, so you’re the guy who wears all the gear – I’ve heard about you!”

And he seemed genuinely chuffed to have met me; though whether because I was a bit of a celebrity or the standout oddball, I’m not sure.

I followed procedure to a T, even struggling to get to grips with the bizarre plastic gloves – but after a little persistence and patience I could do anything with them on, much to the amazement of my colleagues (one of who I once watched open a sachet of insecticide by ripping the top off with his teeth, only for a good deal of it to end up in his mouth and over his face. You bet he started spitting – there was 5L of undiluted poison in there!).

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The type of mask used in pest control, a visor added when treating heavily/ in compact spaces/above head height.

We didn’t need masks for every job, just those using airborne insecticides such as when spraying against insects or dusting against them or rodents.

Needing to be super tight, the masks were held in place with thick bands of elastic; the rubber face piece oppressive and heavy enough, without considering the filter section’s weight too.

Given all that:

They weren’t very popular ( with anyone but me, apparently). Something that suited the company given they were hardly cheap—they even begrudged supplying replacement filters to the one tech who did bother to use them (me)—and they didn’t like paying for things at the best of times, once even refusing to supply a tech with pesticide as it was ‘end of quarter’ despite his needing it to do a job a customer had paid for. 

Its lack of care extended to the customer too; wasn’t malice just aimed at employees.

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I feel naked in a car without a seat-belt on, yet I know plenty who’d prefer not wear them. The same can be said of bikers and crash helmets. But none of it should come as a surprise given smoking.

Just, it did in a work environment where the threat to health is part of a worker’s day in pursuit of profit for the shareholders.

Someone without a lid losing the two wheels beneath them, and as a result their life too, can be said to be living it to the fullest, as they wanted to – free, wind in their hair! The same can’t be said of someone falling off an un-footed ladder while trying to get at a wasp’s nest.

While masks worn in relation to Covid 19 may or may not help the wearer, those in pest control are 100% for that purpose alone. Despite this, the techs choosing not to wear them did end up putting others at risk.

Just after starting I was asked to cover an out of hours job at a huge furniture warehouse. ‘Out of hours’ meaning a treatment to take place in an area normally occupied by staff/public that couldn’t happen while they where there for one of two reasons.

  • a) an aspect of the treatment would pose a heath risk to anyone in the area not wearing a mask; a status that could remain for some hours after treatment completion.
  • b) the customer didn’t want staff/public to know pest control was there regardless of treatment type; this normally applied to just the public and was completely irrelevant to whether the treatment was for an active infestation or just routine precautionary (the thinking being a member of the public would likely assume the worst, so better be safe than sorry).

This particular treatment was a precautionary spray against the type of pests that can be damaging to furniture and natural fabrics, so regardless of what the customer thought about b) it had to be done when no one was around.

A caretaker in a little cubbyhole by a side-door told me it was all clear. In buildings without 24hr security, whoever had responsibility of being last to leave and lock-up was by default lumbered with waiting for me.

Something they were rarely happy about and so wanted me done ASAP so they could leave.

Off I went. It was a huge place, with offices at the far end. When getting to them, having sprayed my way there, I opened the door to one only to find it still full of staff.

One was heavily pregnant

All Hell broke lose at the sight of me, mask on face, sprayer on back.

Except, as much as it could’ve been the whole kit and caboodle—which also included bright overalls and the weird gloves—the job had been done plenty times before by other techs.

When I started the job, it never occurred to me other techs wouldn’t wear the safety gear. 

But it soon became pretty obvious during training given what some of my trainers did.

Very possibly the result of all those years spraying without wearing a mask . . .

Standing on the railing of a fifteenth floor balcony to drill holes in the underside of the one above, no safety harness whatsoever, just the pressure of feet at the bottom on the thin metal rail and one hand, palm flat against bottom of said balcony overhead, while the other hand held and used a drill, nothing but sheer drop behind and below.

My trainer was risking his life to put up netting; I couldn’t even look . . . all just to shoo a couple of pigeons.

Though it wasn’t just a fear of heights and watching people fall—SPLAT!!!—to their once in a lifetime death from them that got me the by-the-book reputation.

And it is here that things do get a little bit . . . messy; while there are no images, the squeamish might want to stop scrolling now!

It wasn’t just my own welfare I cared about. Pest Control in essence isn’t pest extermination.  While fully equipped to deal with established active infestations, the primary focus is stopping vulnerable premises ever suffering anything beyond a minor infestation in the first place.

For example, a common way for restaurants to get cockroaches is buying second hand equipment such as fridges and ovens. Nothing whatsoever to do with how clean the buying restaurant is and not necessarily obvious from the condition of the equipment; it could be wherever it was purchased from that, given it would deal with lots of second hand kitchen equipment, was the source of infestation.

True, from the cockroaches’ perspective, the dirtier the better; but they’re resilient little buggers and don’t tend to just die off due to lack of enthusiasm for eking food out of somewhere.

Pest control urban legend, maybe; but I think not: heavy infestations of roaches on boats has resulted in them eating the dead skin on sleeping sailors’ feet!

With professional proofing, routine spraying and/or bait stations already in place, infestations are nipped in the bud before getting established. Without the chance to enter just one breeding cycle, the number of pests ‘exterminated’ is reduced significantly.

This is not only better for the pests, but also the environment as in the long haul far less pesticide is needed (which also means less cost to the client).

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Header image courtesy cottonbro.

In these respects the ethics of good Pest Control centre on prevention over cure, vigilance over hindsight. Efficiency rules the day, in which it follows that pests encountered are dealt with humanely.

There is, of course, a debate about whether an animal can ever be killed humanely before its time, and it is—as many of my previous posts will testify—one I believe to have far more merit than generally given credit for.

What I can say for absolute sure is that if something is going to be killed, there are certainly better ways it can be done.

The ‘Exterminator’ preconception

It’s frequently assumed anyone working in pest control gets some perverse kick out of killing.

In my experience at least 80% of techs in the field cared to some decent enough degree that any method applied would cause a pest minimum stress.

Many had come to be rat owners when realising the ingenuity and personality of the animals (though I can’t stress enough – these weren’t rats brought home from work to save from a good poisoning; rats in the wild are not something anyone wants to be messing with in any type of friendly way as unfortunate as that reality may be).

It wasn’t uncommon to find oneself stood in front of a customer (more generally a staff member of the customer) positively seething inside while they proudly reeled off the story of how they managed to get one of the whatevers by a method that they were clearly over the moon about the cruelty of.

But I wasn’t there to punch people for breaching animal welfare legislation (unfortunately).

Of course, when I say 80% cared, I am talking about people who didn’t care about health and safety equipment for their benefit. Of the 80% about 10% cared to a high degree, while the remaining 70% might not follow the rules, but would do things (or at least attempt to) in a way intended to be as quick and painless as possible.

Sticky Boards a.k.a. Glue Traps

Have always been a contentious aspect of pest control, so imagine my surprise when a few years ago discovering they’re now on sale to the general public at major hardware stores and garden centres.

What didn’t surprise me was to recently see those in the know also backing calls for that to be reversed.

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To summarise, I was taught sticky boards shouldn’t be left in place for longer than a set amount of time, which if memory serves was eight hours. I was told this was law and pertained solely to the welfare of the animal; how long it might be acceptable for it to remain on one before being ‘dispatched’.

A technician in the bad 20% might throw them under a unit in a kitchen known to have an infestation with little care for where or even being bothered about checking again, just so long as it was out of sight it could stay there forever as far as they were concerned.

In my opinion sticky boards should be banned and back break traps used in their place (the stereotypical ones always shown with a bit of cheese on) as they, unlike sticky boards, have an instant kill factor.

However, back break traps were never used by the company I worked for, and my only experience has been limited to seeing them used in Canada, both by professionals and privately.

I can’t say, therefore, how successful they are at always doing the intended.

But even in that limited experience two things are apparent; they’ll only work if knowing:

  • how the traps are specifically designed to work
  • how to place them correctly in relation to the habits of the target rodent type

I’ve encountered these traps being placed by the uneducated in ways guaranteed to do animals harm and not one iota of that intended.

Don’t D.I.Y.

The thing about any D.I.Y. pest control: it’s destined to fail far more times than not.

It’s not a profession one walks completely away from as friends and family will always see you as the go-to for any pest related problems they encounter.

When helping I know exactly what to look for in rat poison from the local hardware store. If looking at reviews online, though, the case is generally a perfectly good rodenticide being called utterly useless simply because the reviewer doesn’t have the first clue about correct bait placement and principles relating to necessity for multiple baits.

Putting bait down without knowing any of this has more chance of causing undue pain and suffering than actually dealing with the problem. To be fair, the issue can often be any instructions—or lack of—given on the product.

Any method of pest control carries unnecessary risks in the wrong hands and that risk is increased the more ‘extreme’ the method in question.

Sticky boards are only used by the industry as a last resort in cases of extreme infestation, which tend to result from negligence in recognising and dealing with the problem in the first place.

Any person or business with an infestation that warrants sticky boards is already in way over their head, as simple and straightforward as that.

Putting the most extreme from of pest control into their hands isn’t the answer; while if an infestation isn’t that bad, then there’s no reason for the untrained public to need them.

Learning the hard way

I refused to enter a sticky board job the morning after it was set until issued the correct gas canister and bag, which were specified as essential in the handbook (items not required in the slightest when used by the public).

The branch—despite being mandatory by the company’s own rules—had neither.

They suggested I improvise. I thanked them for the suggestion, but declined.

So, in attempt at frightening me into action they said it wouldn’t a supervisor coming to the job, but the Service Manager!!!

I told the admin on the phone I’d be outside, but he needed to hurry as I had other appointments booked that day.

‘It’s very simple,’ he said, stood there in his nice suit and shiny shoes. ‘If you haven’t got the stuff, all you’ve got to do is . . .’ and, boy, what a mess he made, all over said shiny shoes and suit, never mind the floor of the customer’s restaurant!

I stood staring with thin unimpressed lips: me the tech in clean overalls, he expensively suited and covered in . . .

I never got asked to do sticky boards again.

However, I did get promoted a little bit later.

Other mask related posts:

Other pest control related posts (and, yes, they are all also about music too):

Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan

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