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Expert says bed bugs in the workplace are a growing concern for HR

You’ve heard about the recent bed bug outbreak, particularly in New York City hotels, but have you heard that bed bugs are becoming a real issue in the workplace? Business owners, human resource directors and facilities managers who ignore this growing problem risk losing employee productivity, morale and their company’s reputation, according to Jennifer Erdogan, director of the bed bug division at Bell Environmental Services. What they gain is an increased likelihood in lawsuits filed by workers, vendors, and/or customers.

Since June, in New York City alone, bed bugs have been reported in retail stores, hospitals, and major office buildings. They have also been found in many other business settings that were not been publicly reported. Winning a battle against bed bugs requires extensive cooperation between the pest control firm and key departments of the company –especially human resources. It is the experience of Bell Environmental Services that operations and/or facilities management departments do not understand how bed bugs are different than other pest control issues. Productivity, potential loss of sales, employee morale, disruption, and panic are not issues your operations department encounters. Rather, their goal is the extermination of various pests. Human resources executives have more at stake.

HR’s role in handling a bed bug infestation. Erdogan says the first step HR must take is to establish with senior management the seriousness of the issue, and the potential ramifications. From there, it is important to understand the nature of the problem:

  • Bed bugs are not inherent to any building. They’re brought in with employees, their bags, purses, luggage, or on furniture. Rarely is it a company’s fault that bed bugs were introduced into a building.
  • When one bed bug is sighted, acknowledge that there are more. Typically around 20 percent of an office or commercial location is infested before an employee might finally spot a bed bug.
  • Once in the office, bed bugs adjust their hours and feed on people when they are on site rather than their nocturnal schedule in a residence.
  • Typically, the bed bugs do not spread throughout an entire building, but do occupy the areas in which people spend extensive periods of time while sedentary.

Next, you need to understand that the most important element for eliminating bed bugs is a more thorough treatment than conventional pest control. Bed bugs hide in any crack and crevice, so it is necessary to use a labor-intensive approach that treats the whole “haystack” in order to eliminate the “needles.” The three main treatment methods –Chemicals/Pesticides, Steam Heat, and Carbon Dioxide Freezing –have different pros and cons and can affect the operations of the workplace and employee health. Consult with a pest control company to determine which treatment is best for your organization.

There is no guarantee that bed bugs, once eliminated, won’t be re-introduced to a business setting. Long term, vigilance is the best prevention tool against a large bed bug problem. Bed bugs–and their “ick “factor–have captured people’s imagination like no other pest. Unless a company shows employees that the problem is being taken seriously, and steps are being taken to educate employees how to help prevent further infestations, morale will plummet and recruiting and retention will become more difficult.

Source: Jennifer Erdogan is the director of the bed bug division at Bell Environmental Services; 229 New Road, Parsippany, N.J. 07054; telephone: 973-575-7800.