Pest control workers treat residential and commercial properties with chemicals and mechanical traps to get rid of rodents, insects, and other common pests. They may work for a pest control company, lawn or landscaping firms, or own and operate their own company. Pest control workers make periodic visits to their clients’ properties to make sure they remain pest-free. They may also use chemicals to control diseases and pests that attack lawns, shrubs, and other outdoor vegetation. There are approximately 68,000 pest control workers in the United States.
Pest Control Worker Career History
Pest control as an industry is a fairly recent development. In earlier times, fumigators were often brought into houses where someone had suffered a highly contagious disease, such as smallpox, to rid the house of germs. The most common method of banishing germs was to burn a large amount of an antiseptic that was a highly corrosive substance, such as sulfur. However, this practice was dangerous to humans and often damaged furniture and household goods.
As scientists researched and tested chemicals, it was discovered that the application of certain chemicals as a method of controlling pests in homes and offices was effective. Chemical research in the 20th century made possible the use of a variety of substances that are toxic to pests but not harmful to people, pets, or household furnishings, when they are used in the proper quantities.
The use of specially trained pest control technicians arose from this need for precision and knowledge in the application of treatments, and today, the pest control industry does billions of dollars a year in business.
Pest Control Worker Job Description
The majority of pest control workers are employed as exterminators or pest control technicians. These workers travel to homes, restaurants, hotels, food stores, warehouses, and other places where pests are likely to live and breed. Before starting on their route, they load their truck with pesticides, sprayers, and other necessary equipment and obtain route slips from company offices showing the customers’ names and addresses, services to be performed, and inspection comments. Once at the residence to be serviced, they inspect the premises for rodent droppings, physical damage from insects, and other signs of infestation. They then apply chemical sprays for flies, roaches, beetles, silverfish, and other household insects in cracks in floors and walls, under sinks, and in other places that provide shelter for these pests. Mechanical traps are set for rodents, and poisonous bait is left for them in areas where it will not contaminate food supplies or endanger children or pets.
Sometimes the pest infestation in a house requires the pest control worker to resort to fogging, which involves using a vapor that contains a very small amount of pesticide. This fog penetrates the different places where pests hide. Before fogging, the homeowners must leave for a short while, taking any pets with them. The pest control worker, often known as a fumigator, then begins to spray a fine pesticide mist that will not leave deposits on fabrics or flat surfaces. The worker wears a mask or respirator and protective clothing during this procedure. This mist is applied starting in the rear of the house and continuing until the worker exits through the front door. After a certain amount of time, the residents can safely return.
Many commercial establishments have service contracts with an exterminating company that sends workers on a biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis to make sure the premises remain free of pests. Workers often use a concept known as “integrated pest management” with these customers, which involves advising them on housekeeping and home repair methods to keep pests from returning.
A smaller percentage of pest control workers are termite exterminators, and they perform a more extensive and complicated job than other workers in the industry do. Termites are particularly destructive pests. Their appetite for wood causes up to $2 billion a year in property damage. Termite exterminators treat termites, which live in underground colonies and eat away the foundations and structural members of wooden houses, by laying down a chemical barrier between the termite colony and the structure. This barrier traps the termites either underground, where there is no wood to eat, or in the walls, where they cannot find water. Eventually, the colony dies of either starvation or dehydration. Another method of treating termite infestation involves pumping gaseous pesticides into buildings that have been sealed or covered by tarpaulins.
Termite exterminators must sometimes make structural changes to the buildings they service. Holes may have to be drilled in basement floors to pump chemicals into the soil under the house. To keep termites from returning, exterminators must sometimes raise foundations or replace infested wood. If this alteration work is very extensive, however, the homeowner usually calls in building contractors and carpenters. Once termites have been thoroughly eradicated from a building, they are not likely to return soon. For this reason, termite exterminators work on a single-visit rather than a contract basis. The work of several exterminators may be directed and coordinated by an extermination supervisor.
In addition to the above duties, pest control workers must keep records of the dates each account is serviced, the type and strength of pesticides used, and any reported pest problems. They may also be responsible for collecting payment on accounts.
Pest Control Worker Career Requirements
The minimum requirement for pest control occupations is a high school diploma. A college degree is not required, although nearly half of all pest controllers have attended college or earned a degree. High school classes such as vo-tech, earth science, math, writing, and chemistry would be beneficial to this profession.
Pest controllers usually begin as apprentices when they learn pesticide safety and use. At this time they also train in one or more of several pest control categories, such as nuisance pest control, wood preservation and treatment, rodent control, termite control, fumigation, and ornamental and turf control. Training includes approximately 10 hours in the classroom and 60 hours on the job for each specialty. Apprentices have up to one year to prepare for and pass the written examinations, after which they become licensed technicians.
Certification or Licensing
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, all pesticide products are classified by the degree of hazard they pose to people and the environment. Therefore, pest control workers must be licensed in all states. Some of these states also require the applicant to pass a written examination. Because many pest control workers have access to residences and businesses, most exterminating companies require that their employees be bonded. This means an employee must be at least 18 years of age and have no criminal record.
Pest control technicians should be able to use good judgment and follow oral and written instructions well. These workers should also be very conscientious and responsible, because any mistakes they make applying or handling chemicals could result in serious injury or even death for either themselves or their clients.
Pest control workers should be in good general health and able to lift fairly heavy objects. Because route workers usually make service calls alone, they need a driver’s license, a safe driving record, and the ability to work well alone. Manual dexterity and mechanical ability are also important for pest control workers. Termite exterminators will also find knowledge of carpentry valuable.
Exploring Pest Control Worker Career
If you are interested in becoming a pest control worker, you might want to talk to someone already working in the field to get a good perspective on what the job is like. Students who have held part-time and summer jobs as drivers or helpers on milk, bakery, dry-cleaning, or other routes will find the experience helpful if they plan to enter this field. Also working part time in the landscaping and lawn products business would be a good experience. An interest in chemistry or, in the case of termite exterminators, in woodworking and carpentry is also an asset. More information regarding this profession can be obtained by contacting your local library or the sources at the end of this article.
Pest control jobs are available across the country, but most of the 68,000 pest control workers in the United States are employed in large, high-density population areas. Many pest control workers are employed in states that have warmer climates. Pest control companies and landscaping and lawn services may employ pest control workers. Some government agencies and large manufacturing or processing companies may hire their own pest control workers as part of their routine maintenance. Approximately 12 percent of pest control workers operate their own businesses.
Pest control workers usually obtain their jobs through newspaper ads or leads from friends. Job seekers can also apply directly to local pest control firms listed in the Yellow Pages. Owners of firms who use the services of a pest control company may be able to provide job seekers with names of pest control firms. State and local employment offices may have job opportunities with pest control firms.
Skilled pest control workers may be promoted to higher-paying jobs, such as route manager. Those with job experience and sales aptitude may become pest control salespersons that contact prospective customers to inform them of the firm’s services. They might also become employees of firms that make pesticides or equipment for the industry. Other workers may get jobs as service managers and act as liaisons between the company and its customers. Some may advance to owning their own exterminating businesses. Termite exterminators who are skilled at structural work may become carpenters.
Salaries vary according to geographic area, company, and job title. Beginning technicians can earn minimum wage. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual earnings for all pest control workers were $27,170 in 2005. The lowest 10 percent of pest controllers earned less than $17,590, and the top 10 percent earned $43,440 or more. Some technicians receive commission based on a percentage of the service charge to the customer, and others receive a percentage of the route income.
Most pest control companies give their full-time workers regular vacations, health insurance, pension plans, and other benefits.
Most pest control workers are employed in urban areas, where older buildings provide easy access and good shelter for roaches, rats, and other pests. Termite exterminators tend to work in suburbs and small towns, where there are many wood frame buildings. They usually work a 40-hour week, but may work longer hours in the spring and summer when insects and rodents are most active. Sometimes they have to work nights if an establishment such as a restaurant does not want spraying to occur in front of their customers.
Most pest control technicians work alone, driving to each individual client’s property. They must often carry equipment and supplies weighing as much as 50 pounds. The job requires them to work both indoors and outdoors, in all kinds of weather, and they usually spend a large amount of time walking and driving. Termite exterminators may have to crawl under buildings and work in dirty or damp cellars. Therefore, people with a strong aversion to dirt and who are sensitive to unpleasant odors, or who have strong allergies are not well suited to this field. In addition, because the nature of the job requires workers to spend time in pest-infested houses, anyone who is disturbed or frightened by the various bugs or rodents that might be encountered is not a good candidate.
Most of the chemicals used in exterminating are not harmful to humans if handled properly, although some may be injurious if inhaled in large quantities or left on the skin. Pest control workers wear rubber gloves when mixing the pesticides, in addition to other protective clothing. To make certain that workers are safe, some companies routinely take blood samples to test for any residual amounts of the pesticides they use.
Pest Control Worker Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of pest control workers will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. This growth will be due to increased environmental and health concerns, greater numbers of dual income households, and newer insulation materials that have made certain homes more susceptible to pest infestation. Although steady advances in science are resulting in safer and more effective pesticides, pest control will always be needed, since most vermin breed rapidly and develop an immunity to pesticides over time. The high turnover rate among employees will also provide a certain number of job openings.
Pest control jobs are concentrated in warmer climates. Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas have the highest concentration of pest control workers.