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Numerous opportunities and challenges exist for pest management professionals called to service the drop ceiling of a commercial establishment, whether the establishment is a food facility, hospital, restaurant or other similar location. Apart from inaccessible wall voids, the drop ceiling provides one of the most ideal environments for pests to harbor and breed, further increasing the probability for pest sightings within the establishment itself. Additionally, various physical and biological issues that originate from within the drop ceiling void can exacerbate a current pest issue and wreak havoc for the PMP and the customer.

Ideally, when servicing commercial establishments, it is critical that pest management professionals be thorough in their initial assessment and subsequent treatments. However, drop ceilings are inherently conducive to the harborage and breeding of pests due to their warmth, darkness and accessibility to conduits leading to other buildings. As a result, pests easily can be provided with the appropriate means for survival and reproduction solely based on the environment present within the drop ceiling void.

Therefore, it is vital that the pest management professional clarify expectations with their customer prior to initiating treatment. A failure on the part of pest management professionals to clarify expectations to their customer can ultimately lead to numerous callbacks and cancellations. Clarifying expectations to the customer should begin in writing and ideally also should include a comprehensive inspection and walk-through with key decision makers, so that the customer fully understands the conditions that are present and the limitations of the pest management service itself. Although these explanations to the customer can become time consuming, subsequent callbacks and cancellations can hurt profits and damage the credibility and reputation of the pest management provider.

CUSTOMER COMMUNICATION. When interacting with a customer, the range of expectations as to the importance of treating a drop ceiling will range significantly. Additional factors that may contribute to this wide disparity would stem from the type of commercial establishment that is being inspected and treated. For example, a customer that is not subject to audits (third party or otherwise) may not be as keen in stressing the importance of treating the drop ceiling. Conversely, a customer subject to unannounced or frequent inspections or audits would request a proactive approach to treating the drop ceiling from their pest management provider. Therefore, the importance of clarifying expectations and gathering pertinent information cannot be stressed enough.

An important consideration is how you work with commercial establishments that are connected to one another. Primarily, a contributing factor to an increase in pest pressure can ultimately originate from conduits within the drop ceiling, whether that’s plumbing, electrical or HVAC. These conduits can provide a “superhighway” for pests to travel easily from one commercial establishment to another. Unfortunately, they can become the primary source for pest invasions into a commercial establishment that was previously pest-free. Additionally, the type of commercial establishment ultimately can dictate the degree of pest presence. For example, a commercial restaurant with HVAC systems that can potentially siphon food odors into the ceiling void will attract more pests versus an establishment that does not work with providing food-based services.

How do you work with commercial establishments that are connected? Shared ceiling spaces can be a “superhighway” for pests to travel easily from one business to another.
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However, an important distinction should be made in that pests, for the most part, forage for food but they also forage for harborage and nesting material, which can be readily available in any type of establishment. This factor alone provides a challenge to all PMPs who are seeking to eliminate or substantially reduce the presence of pests in a commercial establishment. Therefore, the grand question remains: Can a connected commercial establishment be truly pest free? The quick answer is maybe, because pest management can ultimately come down to the pest threshold (the number of pests a customer is willing to accept as normal) that a customer will accept.

TREATMENT PLAN. Access that is possible from within the commercial establishment into the drop ceiling void is a significant factor in maintaining pest presence low. Conducive conditions such as wiring, plumbing and other service lines leading into the drop ceiling void should not be overlooked, and an emphasis on pest exclusion (sealing gaps, holes and other openings with construction materials) should be implemented. In an account where the customer has access to a qualified contractor, that contractor should be utilized. However, in situations where the contractor the customer is utilizing is not qualified, then the pest management professional should attempt to seal off these openings themselves or with their own contractor.

An alternative to this is in offering these exclusion-based services as part of a comprehensive pest management program from the onset of service, if you as the PMP are qualified to complete these tasks. Remember that any service that you provide as a pest management professional reflects the quality and efficacy of all services that you provide, therefore, some degree of diligence is important when deciding to venture into these sorts of add-on services.

As noted previously, due to the open environment present within the drop ceiling, a plan should be in place to log pest sightings whether they’re seen or unseen. An example of an “unseen” pest sighting would be noises of scurrying inside the ceiling void, which could indicate mouse (but most likely rat) activity within the ceiling void. Appropriate training of the customer’s staff in logging these instances are crucial in not only measuring the efficacy of the pest management program, but also in locating areas of increased pest pressure. With this information at your disposal you can then address the pest sighting with the customer, while also considering the clarification of expectation that you used at the onset of service. For the pest management professional, these documented sightings become key in planning your future services and in whether the issue should be addressed or not, in collaboration with the customer.

FINAL THOUGHTS. Overall, the issue of pest sightings and the need to treat or monitor activity within the drop ceiling ironically has a very emotional component to it that should not be dismissed. Additionally, factors such as the frequency of inspection or audits, pest threshold, experience of the pest management professional, and the likelihood that the pest presence within the drop ceiling can become an issue within the commercial establishment are all important. Diligence in planning your services will allow for a more robust outcome in maintaining pest presence low or achieving total elimination. Being proactive throughout the process ultimately allows for smarter treatment decisions and conveyance of issues that the customer themselves would need to address for an optimal outcome.

Connected commercial establishments can become one of the most challenging pest management scenarios and we can only control so much. Limitations to our services is a very important reality and these limitations can greatly increase when we attempt to service the entire connected property rather than the individual commercial establishment. Therefore, clarification of expectations and disclosure of the strength and limitations of your service will go a long way in ensuring that your customers remain satisfied with your services and most importantly, pest-free.

The author is a pest management consultant and freelance writer with more than 15 years of industry experience as a consultant, technical director and service specialist.