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Following the product label when applying pesticides is one of the most basic operational requirements in our industry. It is not only a training task for new staff or just a “best practice,” it is the law and is reinforced regularly in training with new and seasoned technicians because everyone must abide by product labels when applying pesticides. Pesticide labels help ensure pesticides are used and handled responsibly, and the violation of label directions and requirements can result in severe penalties.

Reading, understanding and following the termiticide label is one of the first tasks that must be completed before treating any structure for termites, however, there are many other considerations beyond those found on the product label that must be addressed to ensure a safe and effective termite treatment.

IT’S THE LAW. Most states have regulations regarding the provision of professional pest control services that are not label issues, but are part of state law and must be complied with. Requirements such as the removal of termite mud tubes and cellulose debris from the structure, crawlspace clearance and correcting wood-to-ground contact are not only best practices, they are often included in the regulations. Other aspects of protecting a structure are not legislated, but may be matters of company policy to help ensure customer satisfaction and reduce long-term liabilities. For example, a home may have spray foam insulation, exterior foam board insulation below grade or other issues for which your company has specific procedures or policies that must be followed.

Obeying applicable laws and regulations for performing professional services are required in this industry, but there are also the termites to consider. The “rules” termites follow are not dictated by government entities, and they do not produce a document to spell it out for us. It is our responsibility to understand their biology and how they behave to effectively protect our customers’ homes. Failure to control termites paired with miscommunication between you and your customer can turn into a nightmare.

PREP IS KEY. Preparation to treat a structure for termites starts at the office, not at the jobsite. As soon as you know a termite treatment has been sold, review the sales graph and other paperwork to make sure you fully understand your company’s agreement with the customer. If you sold it yourself, review your notes to avoid miscommunication and make sure all commitments are kept. Things to note include:

  • Is this a bait or liquid treatment?
  • What are the scheduling requirements?
  • What type of structure will you be treating? What is the foundation type, size of the structure? Are there attached slabs or other structural elements? Is it a commercial or residential structure?
  • How much time should you allow for the service?
  • Are there considerations for the residents such as wellness issues, pet concerns or other unique circumstances?
  • Will you need to call 811 (or other number) so the utility company can mark utilities before disturbing the soil? This is required by law in many states/cities/municipalities, even for trenching, drilling slabs or using an auger for bait installation. Notification is typically required three days or more prior to starting the job. State statutes such as these are not usually found in pest control regulations, but rather in your state’s legal code in the section regulating utilities. Regulations and penalties found in these codes vary considerably, so it pays to know your state’s requirements. Failure to call can result in severe penalties, especially if there is an incident.
  • Is there a well, cistern or other water source or contamination concern on or near the property?
  • Will the customer be home at the time of the service or have arrangements been made for you to access to all areas for inspection and treatment?
  • If commercial, will business be disrupted?
  • Are there any areas that will require a waiver or other preliminary paperwork per your state or local regulations?
  • Does your state require pre-notification of any agencies or sensitive individuals? What is the required timeframe?

Use a checklist to make sure you are prepared before leaving the office. There are many things to remember that, if discovered at the job site, can cause delays, accidents, result in improper treatment or even violations. Failure to prepare can also result in customer disappointment and dissatisfaction when their expectation was that the work would be performed in a professional manner.

  • Call the customer to verify the appointment time.
  • Calculate the amount of termiticide or the number of bait stations needed.
  • Check your truck to ensure you have the treating equipment and materials needed, and that your equipment is in good working order. Something as simple as a cordless drill or a flashlight that is not fully charged can result in a serious setback in completing the job in a safe and timely manner. One extra trip to the hardware store or back to the office can ruin your productivity for the entire day.

ON SITE. Once you’re at the jobsite, and you have read the termiticide label, you are ready to grab your tools and dive in, right? Well, not just yet, there are still a few things the label didn’t mention.

Start by meeting with your new customer. Beyond the courtesy of introducing yourself, it is an opportunity to discuss their concerns and help them know what to expect when the treatment is performed. The customer also may know details about the house or property that are important in providing a safe and effective treatment. Things like a well nearby, an addition or other structural change that has been made to the house may not be readily apparent and could be missed during your visual inspection.

The label for most liquid termiticides requires an inspection by the applicator before the treatment begins to ensure that the termiticide does not flow to an unintended location. Termite bait labels do not require such an inspection, however, a preliminary inspection for bait or liquid treatments is important for several reasons. A thorough inspection will help you determine:

  • The layout of the structure.
  • Safety hazards in your path.
  • The best way to complete your treatment plan.
  • Conducive conditions that must be discussed with the customer.

The inspection also will give you an opportunity to find termite activity, existing damage and evidence of other wood- destroying organisms that might have caused damage. It is best for your customer to understand the condition of their home from the start of your relationship with them, especially in areas where they might not normally go, such as an attic.

The best way to record the findings from your inspection is to draw a graph of the structure that shows the foundation, your treatment plan and any critical treatment considerations. The graph is also the best way to document current conditions with regards to termite activity and damage. Digital photo documentation of termite activity and damage also will improve communication with your customer and note current conditions. Other wood-destroying organism activity and/or damage, along with conducive conditions that should be addressed by the homeowner, should be included on the graph with the photos. If they choose not to address noted conditions, you will have a written record of your recommendations.

HIT THE ROAD. You have completed the treatment, so it’s time to pack up and head to the next job, right? Not just yet. The label (for liquid treatment) requires you to perform a final inspection to make sure no off-target application has occurred. Once again however, there are things that the label does not say, but that must be done to properly complete the service.

First, review your graph to make sure all areas have been treated as planned. It is easy to forget a bath trap or an isolated crawlspace area. Also be sure to add any termite activity to the graph that you found as you were trenching. Many states require that bait stations must be indicated on the graph, which is best done after installation. Be sure you have properly documented all materials used and completed all paperwork that is required.

Now you can pack up, making sure you have all of your tools and equipment securely placed back in your vehicle and that the jobsite is clean. Meet with your customer once more to go over the service that was provided and answer any other questions they might have.

The last thing that is often overlooked is to conduct a follow-up inspection on any areas of termite activity that were found. A brief visit to the customer’s property, 30 to 90 days later to make sure the termite activity has been resolved is invaluable. It shows the customer that you care about their home and the work you have done to protect it, and gives you an opportunity to stop any termites that may still be active before additional damage has occurred.

Following the label when treating for termites is critical, but it is only one part of successfully controlling them. Be prepared, know your state regulations and follow your company’s policies. Remember that details matter with termites and one little miss can turn into a big mess for everyone.

W. Douglas Webb, B.C.E., is technical manager with Terminix International. He earned his master of science degree in wood science and technology from Mississippi State University. He has served Terminix customers for more than 38 years.