The rise of bed bug in commercial settings largely goes hand-in-hand with their rise in residential settings. Bed bugs are hitchhikers and can easily spread from residential to commercial settings, where treatment has unique challenges.
What’s a commercial account?
The broad definition of a commercial account is anything that’s not someone’s residence. Many companies consider multi-family housing as commercial, because they’ve been hired by management, not the resident. There are other segments of the industry that consider multi-family housing as residential, because you’re faced with similar challenges as treating someone’s house. There are grey areas, such as long-term care and assisted living facilities.
Here’s a broad list of just some commercial settings to consider:
• Assisted living facilities
• Child care centers
• Dialysis centers
• Dressing rooms
• Hair salons
• Homeless shelters
• Locker rooms
• Nursing homes
• Office buildings
• Public transportation
• School busses
• Waiting rooms
Differences between commercial and residential bed bug work
“There are three things that differentiate residential from commercial work: the level of customer cooperation; the amount of clutter; and, level of vigilance,” said Judy Black, MS, BCE, CP-FS, vice president, North America Technical Services, Rentokil Steritech, Wyomissing, Pa.
In commercial accounts, you’re working with a building owner or manager. “There’s also a third-party factor: guests; patients; and movie goers, among many others. There’s a brand reputation concern in commercial settings that you don’t have in residential settings,” said Black.
Catering to an outside audience will likely motivate owners and managers to be additionally concerned, as well as cooperative with working closely with their pest management provider.
You’ll likely encounter heightened vigilance and sensitivity to identify bed bugs in commercial settings, the lack of which can be very costly. “In a hotel, for example, you have housekeepers and maintenance personnel who have likely been trained to identify bed bugs and are doing it on a regular basis,” added Black. Early detection can be key to catching an introduction before it becomes an infestation.
A damaged reputation for a commercial account can debilitate or destroy an organization. Consider the negative impact of these scenarios: guests transporting bed bugs home on their luggage; patients finding bed bugs in an emergency room; family members spotting a bed bug walking across their loved one; staff walking out, because they won’t work somewhere that has bed bugs; or an employee accusing another employee of being responsible for being the source of bed bugs. Reputation and the prospects of a lawsuit are legitimate reasons for added vigilance.
Clutter, which is a frequent problem in residential settings, is usually not a concern in most commercial settings. One exception is hotels in which guests stay for long periods of time. Clutter can build up, just like at home.
Customer, pest management partnership
It’s important to build working relationships with commercial owners and managers to be their partner, especially when addressing the nuances of treating for bed bugs in these settings.
“Education is key! People freak out due to poor information regarding bed bugs. Management needs accurate information to educate their employees,” said Mark “Shep” Sheperdigian, BCE, vice president technical services, Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich. You’re the expert on bed bugs and treatment, and in a position to educate customers. Provide information on bed bug identification, possible protocols for addressing sightings, and treatment options. Continue to provide clear information regarding ongoing treatment activities and products being used.
Inspections in commercial settings need to be more focused. You’ll need to be adept at carefully inspecting one area and item at a time. Bed bugs are still living in cracks and crevices, but they’re different cracks and crevices in these settings. Start your inspection where people sit quietly or remain for long periods of time: office chairs; waiting-room seating; lobby furniture; hospital-staff sleeping quarters; and resident furniture, in addition to beds. Canine inspections can lead technicians to areas that need particular attention.
In a residential setting, the resident already knows there are bed bugs and that monitoring devices can help with effective treatment. Placed in plain sight, a monitoring device at the foot of a bed wouldn’t be an issue. In a commercial setting, “monitoring devices will be visible and seen, possibly causing an immediate perception problem, and can cause a lot of internal talk and misinterpretation. Monitoring could actually create more of an internal issue than a treatment problem,” said Sheperdigian.
“If bed bugs are frequently brought in, consider quarterly inspections, which makes sense when you consider the life cycle of bed bugs. Use canine inspection for light infestations; they can detect bed bugs a technician may not be able to see. Dogs are capable of finding viable eggs and are sensitive enough to find single bed bugs, but be careful, they may alert on bugs or eggs you cannot find,” said Sheperdigian.
The human side of treating for bed bugs
The psychological factor, stigma, and shame associated with bed bugs make sightings and treatment in commercial environments a sensitive issue. Employees may be quick to blame and shun co-workers they feel are the source of hitchhiking bed bugs. Management may be inclined to send home the suspected employee or, even worse, fire them. Tensions can escalate quickly. This doesn’t present you with a treatment concern, but it can quickly become an issue for management. Companies likely never considered bed bugs could become a human resources issue.
Pest management companies should stay out of internal situations between employees, and between employees and management. Even providing information to employees may put you in the middle. The same is true when it comes to patients, residents, guests, customers, and students. You’re not there to mediate. Let management deal with any and all internal issues.
Bed bugs are very adaptable and are showing up in unexpected and challenging places. There’s an increase of incidences of bed bugs living on restaurant chairs. Guests are sitting inactive long enough for a bed bug to also enjoy dinner. Movie goers aren’t sitting in a typical chair, they’re seated in a lounge with complex mechanisms — lots of parts and harborage sites. Bed bugs can find all kids of hiding places in hotel furnishings, such as wicker seating, upholstered headboards, and highly textured wallcovering. Bed bugs may also hitch a ride on wheelchairs and walkers for quick transport throughout a facility.