The Risks of Pests with Outdoor Work
Texas has its share of insects that harm people and disrupt routine maintenance, landscaping projects, and other school operations. If you identify your pest-related risks and follow these tips, you can protect your employees, students, and property.
Common Pests in Texas
These insects, which are common on school campuses, cracked Texas A&M AgriLife Extension's list of dangerous pests in our state:
- Carpenter Ants
Pest Risks to People and Property
Wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, mosquitoes, and bees pose the greatest risk to outdoor work. They are most active in the heat of the day during late morning and afternoon, when they leave their nest to forage.
Other biting insects like spiders and scorpions are also common. These pests can hide on plant life or landscape structures and sting unsuspecting grounds workers.
Common pest-related injuries include:
- Allergic reactions
Insects that don’t attack humans can pose financial and operational threats. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, termites eat through wooden structures and cause physical damage to your buildings, such as swollen or bending walls, mold, and mildew. Carpenter ants don’t eat wood, but they make their nests in wooden frameworks, potentially damaging your building’s insulation.
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 benefit their natural environments as pollinators and predators. Use thresholds to decide whether an insect species poses a threat to your property. If your population rises above the threshold, take control measures.
Thresholds vary depending on the insect, your environment, and your needs. Texas A&M's School IPM website offers a guide to help you set appropriate thresholds.
Tips for Monitoring Pest Populations
Generally, the easiest way to identify whether your insect population surpasses a threshold is to set traps. Use glue boards to catch insects inside buildings. Use rodent traps, flypaper, and flying-insect traps 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, leave that population alone if possible. In addition to this simple procedure, work with your local pest control company to identify pest-detection processes appropriate for your area.
Insect populations move with the weather. During the winter, you might not have a large wasp population. The picture could change during the spring and summer. Inspect your property each season so you always have a feel for your local insect population.
How to Deal with Pests
The best way to control pest populations is to address them before they become a health hazard. For example, if inspections uncover wasp nests, destroy them before they grow beyond control. If a population calls for prompt action, don’t immediately resort to pesticides.
Pesticides can quickly kill harmful insects, but they can also carry negative side effects:
- Killing beneficial insects
- Polluting the area
- Triggering allergies
- Poisoning children with toxic chemicals
Instead, use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan to safely and effectively control pests. State law requires school districts to implement an IPM plan. IPM includes four main strategies:
- Cultural: Remove plants, stones, and other landscape features that support pest populations.
- Mechanical: Prevent pest growth by setting traps, sanitizing the area, and destroying pest shelters.
- Biological: Release a pest’s natural predator onto school grounds, and use natural pesticides to control the population.
- Chemical: Use manufactured pesticides. You should use pesticides sparingly in most cases, but they are the best way to eliminate pest problems in some cases.
Plan for Worst-Case Scenarios
Your designated IPM coordinator should manage your plan and implement it 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 earn licenses to apply pesticides, but it must be the correct license with corresponding endorsements for its intended use.
So, let’s say you monitor pest populations year-round and follow your IPM plan to keep pests below thresholds. What if an emergency happens?
You should always have protective equipment and medications such as EpiPens on hand. Your emergency operations plan must include procedures for quickly getting medical help for employees who suffer severe allergic reactions or other emergencies caused by contact with pests. Make sure employees are trained on the procedures and ready to put them into action.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in July 2020. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Risk Solutions Staff
The TASB risk solutions team includes risk solutions consultants and communications professionals who deliver training, consultations, articles, and resources that help Fund members control losses and their associated costs.