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Pest Control Workers

The Job

The majority of pest control workers are employed as exterminators or pest control technicians. These workers travel to homes, restaurants, hotels, food stores, warehouses, and other places where pests are likely to live and breed. The most common pests are rats, roaches, ants, bedbugs, and termites, but some pest control workers also remove birds and other wildlife.

Before starting on their route, they load their truck with pesticides, sprayers, and other necessary equipment and obtain job assignments from company offices that list the customers' names and addresses, services to be performed, and inspection comments. Once at the residence to be serviced, they inspect the premises for rodent droppings, physical damage from insects, and other signs of infestation. They then apply chemical sprays for flies, roaches, beetles, silverfish, and other household insects in cracks in floors and walls, under sinks, and in other places that provide shelter for these pests. Mechanical traps are set for rodents, and poisonous bait is left for them in areas where it will not contaminate food supplies or endanger children or pets.

Sometimes the pest infestation in a house requires the pest control worker to resort to fogging, which involves using a vapor that contains a very small amount of pesticide. This fog penetrates the different places where pests hide. Before fogging, the homeowners must leave for a short while, taking any pets with them. The pest control worker, often known as a fumigator, then begins to spray a fine pesticide mist that will not leave deposits on fabrics or flat surfaces. The worker wears a mask or respirator and protective clothing during this procedure. This mist is applied starting in the rear of the house and continuing until the worker exits through the front door. After a certain amount of time, the residents can safely return.

Many commercial establishments have service contracts with an exterminating company that sends workers on a biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis to make sure the premises remain free of pests. Workers often use a concept known as "integrated pest management" with these customers, which involves advising them on housekeeping and home repair methods to keep pests from returning.

A smaller percentage of pest control workers are termite exterminators, and they perform a more extensive and complicated job than other workers in the industry do. Termites are particularly destructive pests. Their appetite for wood causes up to $2 billion a year in property damage. Termite exterminators treat termites, which live in underground colonies and eat away the foundations and structural members of wooden houses, by laying down a chemical barrier between the termite colony and the structure. This barrier traps the termites either underground, where there is no wood to eat, or in the walls, where they cannot find water. Eventually, the colony dies of either starvation or dehydration. Another method of treating termite infestation involves pumping gaseous pesticides into buildings that have been sealed or covered by tarpaulins.

Termite exterminators must sometimes make structural changes to the buildings they service. Holes may have to be drilled in basement floors to pump chemicals into the soil under the house. To keep termites from returning, exterminators must sometimes raise foundations or replace infested wood. If this alteration work is very extensive, however, the homeowner usually calls in building contractors and carpenters. Once termites have been thoroughly eradicated from a building, they are not likely to return soon. For this reason, termite exterminators work on a single-visit rather than a contract basis. The work of several exterminators may be directed and coordinated by an extermination supervisor.

In addition to the above duties, pest control workers must keep records of the dates each account is serviced, the type and strength of pesticides used, and any reported pest problems. They may also be responsible for collecting payment on accounts.