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Pest Control Workers - What They Do


Unwanted creatures that infest buildings or surrounding areas can pose serious risks to health and safety. Pest control workers remove these creatures from households, apartment buildings, places of businesses, and other structures, to protect people and maintain structural integrity.

Common pests include roaches, rats, mice, spiders, termites, ants, and bedbugs. Using information about pests' biology and habits, along with an arsenal of pest management techniques, pest control workers locate, identify, and remove pests. They set traps, apply pesticides, and even modify structures at the discretion of the customer.

Many pest problems require pesticide application. Pest control workers use two different types of pesticides—general use and restricted use. General use pesticides are the most widely used and are available in diluted concentrations to the public. Restricted use pesticides are used for the most severe infestations and are available only to licensed professionals. Because of their potential harm to pest control workers, customers, and the environment, restricted-use pesticides are heavily regulated by Federal law.

For some jobs, pest control workers use a combination of pest management techniques, a practice known as integrated pest management. One method involves using proper sanitation and creating physical barriers. Pests cannot survive without food and will not infest a building if they cannot enter it. Another method involves using baits that either destroy the pests or prevent them from reproducing. Yet another method involves using mechanical devices, such as traps, that remove pests from the immediate environment.

Some workers use pest-management technology to make home inspections more efficient. This technology, which uses microchips to identify areas of pest activity, is used most frequently for termites. The chips, which are placed in baiting stations, emit signals that can tell pest control workers if is termites are present. Workers pick up the signals using a device similar to a metal detector, allowing them to quickly evaluate an entire building.

Pest control workers generally can be divided into three categories: technicians, applicators, and supervisors. Position titles and job duties vary by State, however.

Pest control technicians are usually entry-level workers who identify potential pest problems, conduct inspections, and design control strategies. They work directly with the customer and are permitted to apply a limited range of pesticides.

Applicators perform more complex tasks, are able to use a wider range of pesticides, and may specialize in a certain area of pest control. Those that specialize in controlling termites are called termite control technicians. They use chemicals and modify structures to eliminate termites and prevent future infestation. To treat infested areas, termite control technicians drill holes and cut openings into buildings to access infestations and install physical barriers or bait systems around the structure. Some termite control technicians even repair structural damage caused by termites.

Applicators that specialize in fumigation are called Fumigators. These workers use poisonous gases, called fumigants, to treat serious infestations. Fumigators pre-treat infested buildings by examining, measuring, and sealing the buildings. Then, using cylinders, hoses, and valves, they fill structures with the proper amount and concentration of fumigant. To prevent accidental fumigant exposure, fumigators padlock doors, post warning signs, and monitor buildings closely to detect and stop leaks.

Pest control supervisors, also known as operators, direct technicians and applicators. Supervisors are licensed to apply pesticides, but they usually are more involved in running the business. Many supervisors own their own business. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that employees obey rules regarding pesticide use and resolving any problems that arise with regulatory officials or customers. Most States require each pest control establishment to have a supervisor.

Work Environment
Because work must be done on site, pest control workers travel to visit clients. Pest control workers must kneel, bend, reach, and crawl to inspect and treat structures. They work both indoors and out, in all weather conditions. Applicators must wear heavy protective gear, including respirators, gloves, and goggles, when working with pesticides.

There are health risks associated with pesticide use. Various pest control chemicals are toxic and could be harmful, if not used properly. Health risks are limited by the extensive training required for licensure and the use of recommended protective equipment. However, pest control workers still experience injuries more frequently than workers in many other occupations.

Most pest control workers work around 40 hours per week, but about 16 percent worked more than 50 hours per week in 2008. Pest control workers often work evenings and weekends, but many work consistent shifts.

Education & Training Required
A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum qualification for most pest control jobs, but some jobs may not require any formal education. A college degree may be required for other jobs. Most pest control workers may begin their careers as technicians. They often receive both formal classroom and on-the-job training provided by the employer, but they also may be required to study on their own. Training usually involves a combination of classroom study and on-the-job experience for each category of work that the pest control worker would like to perform. Categories may include general pest control, rodent control, termite control, fumigation, and ornamental and turf control. In addition, technicians must attend general training in pesticide safety and use. Pest control workers usually can complete this training in fewer than 3 months.

After completing the required training, workers can provide supervised pest control services. Because pest control methods change, workers often attend continuing education classes, which are frequently provided by product manufacturers.

Certifications Needed (Licensure)
Pest control workers must be licensed. Requirements vary by State, but pest control workers generally must undergo training and pass an examination. Some States also require workers to have a high school diploma or equivalent and pass a background check; some also have additional requirements for applicators and operators. Most pest control firms provide training and help their employees prepare for the examination. In some States, individuals may be able to work as apprentices before becoming licensed.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Pest control workers must be in good health, because of the physical demands of the job, and they also must be able to withstand uncomfortable conditions—such as the heat of climbing into an attic in the summertime or the chill of sliding into a crawlspace during winter. In addition, many pest control companies require their employees to have a good driving record.

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