Texas has its fair share of annoying insects, which can pose serious threats to routine maintenance and landscape projects. You should be aware of potential pest-related risks at your school district or community college and ways to manage them so that you can ensure the safety of your employees, students, and property.
Commons pests in Texas
Many insects are pests that can threaten your landscaping and outdoor work efforts. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension's Integrated Pest Management Program includes the following insects on its list of dangerous pests in our state:
- Carpenter Ants
These pests are common presences on school campuses and can pose a variety of human and property risks.
Pest risks to people and property
Wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, mosquitoes, and bees pose the greatest risk for outdoor work. They are most active in the heat of the day during the late morning and afternoon, when they leave their nest to forage. Other biting insects like spiders and scorpions are common hazards as well. These pests can hide on plant life or landscape structures and sting unsuspecting grounds workers. Common pest-related injuries include painful bites, rashes, and swelling, all of which can become more severe if the victim has allergic reactions.
Even insects that do not directly attack humans can present a major financial and operational threat to your organization. For instance, termites do not injure people but can potentially cause thousands of dollars in property damage. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, termites can eat through wooden structures and cause significant physical damage to your buildings, such as swollen or bending walls, mold, and mildew. Carpenter ants are another threat to your property. Although they do not eat wood like termites, they make their nests in a wooden framework, potentially damaging your building’s insulation in the process.
The TASB Risk Management Fund has handled many pest-related claims throughout its history. In the spring of 2020 alone, the Fund responded to dozens of school employee injuries caused by insects. Depending on the severity, medical costs ranged from $500 for simple bug bites to hundreds of thousands of dollars in the case of a fatality.
How to identify your risk
The most important thing to remember when considering your pest risk is that not all insects are pests. Most insects are beneficial to their natural environments as pollinators and natural predators.
You can use thresholds to determine whether a specific insect species poses a threat to your property or not. If your population is below the threshold, then it likely does not pose an active threat. If your population rises above it, however, control measures need to be taken. Specific thresholds vary depending on the insect, your environment, and your needs. To start setting appropriate thresholds for your school district, Texas A&M's School IPM website has put together a helpful guide with examples.
Monitor your grounds regularly to see whether you have a pest problem or not. In general, the easiest way to identify whether your insect population surpasses a given threshold is to set up traps. Use glue boards to catch insects inside your school building, and use rodent traps, flypaper, and flying insect traps for catching bugs outside. If the number of insects caught in the traps exceeds their threshold, then that population can present a risk to your property. If not, then leave that population alone, if possible. Beyond this simple procedure, work with your local pest control company for specific pest-detection processes appropriate for your area.
To make sure that your school grounds are always safe, monitor your area several times a year. Insect populations move with the weather; in winter, your grounds might not have a large wasp population, but spring and summer could be an entirely different story. Inspect your property each season so that you can always stay aware of your local insect population.
How to deal with pests
The best way to keep pest populations under control is to conduct regular inspections and check your facilities frequently. That way, you can discover any growing pest populations and manage them before they can become a health hazard. For example, this will allow you to destroy wasp nests before they grow beyond control.
If a pest problem has been identified on your school grounds and requires immediate action, do not resort to pesticides immediately. While pesticides can quickly kill bothersome insects, they can have many negative side effects such as killing beneficial insects, polluting the area, triggering allergies, and even poisoning children with toxic chemicals.
Instead, use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan to keep your pest population under control safely and effectively. The state of Texas requires school districts to implement an IPM, which is based on dealing with pests through four primary methods:
- Cultural: creating an environment that supports beneficial insects by removing plants, stones, and other features of your landscape that can support pest populations.
- Mechanical: actively preventing the growth of a pest population by setting up traps, sanitizing the area, and destroying pest shelters.
- Biological: using other insects and natural pesticides to control the pest population. This includes releasing a pest’s natural predator into your school grounds, as well as using natural pesticides specifically designed only for your target pest.
- Chemical: using pesticides. While pesticide usage should be kept to a minimum in most cases, in some situations, it is the best option to eliminate your pest problem.
Lastly, be sure that your school district is always equipped to respond to pest problems whenever they occur. Always have protective equipment and medications readily available, such as EpiPens. You should also be ready to quickly transport your employees to nearby clinics in worst-case scenarios. Procedures such as these should be implemented into your district and campus emergency operations plans and staff should be properly trained.
In all cases, your pest management plan should be managed by your appointed IPM Coordinator and implemented in conjunction with licensed professionals. Not only will you benefit from pest technicians’ expertise, but only licensed individuals are legally permitted to apply pesticides on Texas public school property. District staff members can obtain licenses to apply pesticides, but it must be the correct license with corresponding endorsements for its intended use.
Help when you need it
The Fund has been helping Texas schools provide safe and secure environments for their students and employees since 1974. The Fund Risk Solutions team of experts can help you develop strategies to protect your students, employees, and property. Contact your regional Risk Solutions consultant to learn more about opportunities for preventative maintenance and training in your area.