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Bedbug infestations a human resources woe!

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A colleague of mine thought this would be a good blogging topic because of the frisson he felt just thinking of it. USA Today just reported how bedbugs are creeping into a growing number of cubicles, break rooms and filing cabinets, and are having an impact in the workplace. The article states:

“Nearly one in five exterminators have found bedbugs in office buildings in the U.S., according to a recent survey of extermination firms by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky. That compares with less than 1% in 2007.”

The potential for business travellers and employees to pick up bedbugs and bring them into the office has greatly increased. According to pest control experts, bedbugs are reddish-brown blood-feeders, roughly the size and shape of apple seeds. Bedbugs have a one-year life span during which time a female can lay 200–400 eggs, depending on food supply and temperature. Eggs hatch in about 10 days. Bedbugs prefer to feed on human blood, but will also bite mammals and birds. Bed bugs bite at night, and will bite all over a human body, especially around the face, neck, upper torso, arms and hands. Bedbugs can survive up to six months without feeding. Both male and female bedbugs bite.

The nocturnal pests surfaced from nearly a half-century of inactivity in the early part of this decade, predominantly in hotels. Increased international travel and a more targeted approach to pest control contributed to bedbugs re-establishing a presence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is making the pests a priority research topic. Bedbugs have only recently been subjected to study for the first time since the middle of the last century, and the observed health implications are mild to moderate. Some researchers believe that bedbugs have potential allergen and respiratory effects, much like cockroaches. Others point to the sleep disturbance caused by the night-feeding pests, resulting in fatigue and mental health complications. For some, as noted, the bites cause mild to serious skin reactions that result in soreness or itching. Those who experience bites may also feel paranoia about the pests during the day and especially at night. Delusionary parasitosis, in which the person believes he or she is being actively bitten by the insects throughout the day, may be incited by concern about bedbug activity, according to some researchers.

Beyond the potential health implications, bedbugs have now become a business concern also. As an unwanted pest, the very presence of bedbugs is a disturbance to employees and all who enter or use the business premises. Infestations are common and becoming more so in these settings, and when they occur, they evoke the impression—right or wrong—that infested facilities are unsanitary and of low quality.

A point I found interesting indicated that “Bedbug lawsuits are starting to grow like crazy.”

According to American pest-control expert Mark Sheperdigian, when bedbugs spread through an office, “you have other employees saying, ‘I got bedbugs because you had them in the office, and I took them home.'”

Employees are blaming their employer or sometimes co-workers they feel have hygiene issues. What follows are worker actions and formal complaints to health departments and ministry of labour, union disputes, unwanted publicity and lawsuits!

The presence of bedbugs in the workplace is a sensitive subject and involves facilities, human resources, public relations and risk management decisions that can have significant financial and legal implications.

Although this issue is more prevalent in the US at this time, it does not mean it cannot happen, or is not happening in Canada right now. On an aside; I am starting to itch just writing about this!

I never thought I’d say this, but employers, managers and decision-makers need to educate themselves about bedbugs to be able to make the appropriate decisions required to deal with the potential for bedbug infestations in offices. This issue would fall under the general duty clause found under Occupational Health and Safety legislation in all jurisdictions in Canada. Employers would have to identify if a bedbug infestation exists; take appropriate measures to eliminate such infestation and measures to prevent future bedbug infestations; and act to protect the health and safety of their workers from the possible ills related to bed bug infestations. The first step in my book is good housekeeping—an essential part of your company’s health and safety program.

While doing some research on the web, I found other great resources that will help businesses understand the issues and challenges of bedbugs in an office environment, but also what strategies and solutions are available to decision-makers to deal with this type of problem effectively.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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