RESPONDING TO BED BUGS IN AN OFFICE ENVIRONMENT BY PAUL WENNING, R.S. FRANKLIN COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
Bed Bugs in the Office It is becoming more and more commonplace for bed bugs to find their way into office environments. Bed bugs are easily transported on clothing and personal possessions of your employees and the visitors to your building. The presence of bed bugs doesn't have to disrupt your operation if you know how to handle them.
- It is important to know what bed bugs look like, and where to find them. Refer to the photos on our website: http://centralohiobedbugs.org/photos.html
Bed bugs look like ticks, only smaller.
They don’t fly or jump.
- Even immature bed bugs and eggs are visible. (A flashlight and a magnifying glass make it easier to see them.)
Bed bug cause itchy welts in ~70% of people. These welts typically occur in groups and are on exposed skin, but the bites are not distinctive (they resemble bites from other insects and kin). Bed bug bites can cause scars.
Survey - Train your staff to know what bed bugs look like and how to identify them. - Because bed bugs like to hide, it is important to know where to look for them. - Carefully inspect the area where the suspected bed bug was found as soon as you can. - Check the seams and folds in upholstery, lockers, baseboards, carpeting, cubicle walls, furniture joints, electrical outlets, piles of papers and other nooks and crannies.
- Put the live bug(s) in a pill bottle or a sealed plastic bag so the your pest management professional can make a positive identification.
- Isolate the area where the bugs were found.
Act - Contact a licensed pest management professional (PMP) immediately. - Your PMP should conduct an inspection of the area where the bed bugs were found. - The PMP should develop a treatment plan, including the chemicals to be used, trapping, and follow up inspections (if required). - Treating while people are in the area is not recommended!
Communicating With Your Staff and Clients There are many things that you can do to reassure people in your office: - Recognize that silence is your worst enemy, because it leads to speculation, and speculation leads to panic. - Be specific about where the bugs were found. - Avoid using the terms “infested” and “infestation.” A few bugs in a couple of isolated locations in your office is not an “infestation”.
Communicating With Your Staff and Clients (continued) - Assure everyone that the bed bugs will be eradicated by a licensed PMP who will use chemicals that are approved by USEPA - Be clear about the area(s) to be treated. Most people expect the PMP to treat the entire building, but that is rarely necessary. - Assure the staff that the chemicals are the lowest toxicity products available.
Communications (continued) - There is some controversy about whether you are required by OSHA to provide material safety data sheets (MSDS) to any employee who requests them. In any case, you should have the MSDS on hand. (Your PMP can provide them.)
Dealing With Misconceptions Myth 1: “If there’s one bed bug here, there must be thousands!” Response: Heavy infestations occur over time if the bed bugs are not treated. Heavy infestations are easy to identify because live bugs and fecal spots will be widely distributed. Myth 2: “Bed bugs transmit disease.” Response: Bed bugs are not thought to directly transmit disease to humans.
Myth 3: “We’ll have to close the office until the bed bugs are gone.” Response: In few, if any, cases is it necessary to suspend operations if bed bugs are being treated. Myth 4: “They’ll never get the bugs out of the building.” Response: Proper chemicals or heat, applied by a licensed, knowledgeable PMP will eradicate the bed bugs.
Myth 5: “The chemicals they’re going to use are really toxic!” Response: USEPA regulates pesticides. They only allow PMPs to use the lowest toxicity products available. Myth 6: “We’re all going to carry bed bugs home! Response: If you aren’t careful, you could take bed bugs home with you, but there are ways to prevent that from happening.
Protecting Your Staff Once bed bugs are found, the biggest concern that people will have is that they might carry them home. To reduce the risk of this occurring, consider the following steps: - Provide every person with a large plastic bag for storing coats, purses, and other personal belongings. Seal the bag with a binder clip. - Suggest that each employee keep a pair of shoes that they wear only in the office. Street shoes should be placed in a plastic bag.
Protecting You Staff (Continued) - Try to reduce the clutter in work spaces, if possible. - Advise employees to inspect their shoes and clothing before they leave the office. - In high risk environments, install a dryer on the premises for employees to use.
What If an Employee Has Bed Bugs In Their Home? Dealing with an employee who has bed bugs in their home is difficult! - Most people are ashamed that they have bed bugs, so they may not tell co-workers about the problem. Do not blame or make comments that could shame the employee. Anyone can get bed bugs. - Deciding whether to exclude an employee from the work place is an personnel decision. There are no health or OSHA guidelines on this.
Strategies.... - Discretely speak with the employee, and.. - Ask them bring a change of clothing that has been heated in the dryer and sealed in a plastic bag with them to work. - Provide a place for the employee to change when they reach the office. (A space that isn't carpeted and where there is a minimum of clutter is preferable.) - They should seal the things that they wore to work in a plastic bag and take them home.
Strategies (Continued) - The employee should be asked to bring as little with them from home as possible. - They should have a pair of shoes that they leave at the office. - If the employee is a tenant, and the landlord has refused to treat their home, and /or the adjacent units, encourage them to read this fact sheet: http://centralohiobedbugs.org/pdf/bb101_top10Q&A.pdf
Relax! Bed bugs are a manageable problem. With education and a surveillance program, you can keep them from disrupting your workplace.