OHS Canada Magazine

Don’t let the bedbugs bite… at home or at work

March 4, 2011

Health & Safety Health & Safety Public Health & Safety

Business is "very brisk" for Amin Poonja which, although good for him, is not so good for those on the other end of the phone line.

Business is “very brisk” for Amin Poonja which, although good for him, is not so good for those on the other end of the phone line.

Poonja is the owner of Ecopest Inc. in Edmonton, a pest management company whose modus operandi is to rid homes, workplaces and other spaces of all manner of creepy crawlers.

So what pest is keeping Poonja’s business “very brisk” these days? Bedbugs.

“We’re inundated with inquiries,” he says, noting that in a typical week, his company visits 30 to 40 locations where the tiny bloodsuckers have become unwelcome guests.

Personal residences are a popular haunt for the bugs that make their homes in cracks and narrow spaces by day, but typically come out at night to feed on sleeping humans.


“Bedbugs live near people and infest bedrooms or other sites where people sit or rest for long periods,” notes information from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) in Des Plaines, Illinois. In the past, the ASSE reports that the insects were largely associated with cramped living quarters and unsanitary conditions. Nowadays, though, they “are a common problem in multi-family housing, hotels, apartments and other living environments such as offices, waiting rooms, retail stores and movie theatres.”

The ASSE notes that workers’ compensation claims could be filed by employees bitten by bedbugs in the course of employment. “Such a claim would most likely be handled like other injuries involving animals or insects, such as work-related dog bites or bee stings.”

Toronto Public Health (TPH) suggests that the bedbug resurgence is “most likely due to an increase in high-density living, increased use of second-hand items, increase in international travel, reduction in use of very strong, broad spectrum pesticides, and the ability of bedbugs to build resistance to pesticides.”

Reg Ayre, a TPH manager, says he considers bedbugs to be more of a nuisance than a health threat for most people. Their bites can cause “allergic reaction in some people similar to a mosquito bite. Frequent scratching of the bite marks or picking the scabs can cause infections,” the TPH adds.

More serious risks, such as the spread of disease, are not associated with the critters. “Transmission of more than 40 human diseases has been attributed to bedbugs, but there is little evidence that such transmission has ever occurred,” Jerome Goddard, Ph.D. and Dr. Richard deShazo write in a 2009 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which the pair reviewed more than 50 bedbug studies.

That said, an infestation can cause anxiety and concern that may adversely affect a person’s work performance, says Poonja. “People can’t sleep. People are itching.”

Mental anguish is among the grounds that Fox News employee Jane Clark cited in her lawsuit against the owner and management company of her office building in New York City. Clark alleges the defendants failed to take “any and all steps” necessary to prevent the occurrence. Launched in May of 2008, the suit remained unresolved as of late last year.

Ayre says that bedbugs should not pose a problem for the average workplace. An office, for example, is not an ideal habitat for the insects since “there’s no place where there is someone lounging around or sleeping overnight,” putting a blood meal within reach. While bedbugs may appear in these work settings, an infestation is unlikely.

“Bedbugs don’t generally like to be transported by humans,” Ayre says, but recommends the following steps to prevent these insects from hitchin’ a ride:

  • when visiting an infested environment, bring in only what is needed and avoid placing items close to walls and furniture;
  • avoid sitting on furniture with fabric;
  • inspect shoes, clothing and belongings after leaving;
  • place work clothes in the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes after returning home; and,
  • consider wearing disposable protective clothing, such as shoe covers and coveralls.

Dan Birch is assistant editor of OHS CANADA.


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