bed bugs

Bed Bugs in the Workplace – It’s Real

Bed bugs – They are creepy and crawly, and if you are not careful, they could be coming home from work with you.  At least that is what happened at New-York-based media firm, Buzzfeed, last month.

In mid-June, Buzzfeed employees logged on to find an email from the company communications officer alerting workers that the office would be fumigated the following day “in the fastest and environmentally safest manner.”

Just like no fancy hotel wants it known that there are bed bugs on the premises, neither do employers.  For HR in cities with a high incidence of bed bugs, the little bloodsuckers could prove a nightmare. According to pest control company, Orkin, the current top-ten cities for this notorious pest, including residence and commercial properties, include:

  1. Baltimore
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Chicago
  4. New York
  5. Columbus, Ohio
  6. Los Angeles,
  7. Detroit
  8. Cincinnati
  9. Philadelphia
  10. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose

While you might think bed bugs should be sticking close to bedrooms, they don’t.  They could be in your office chair, or in the crack of your desk drawer.  While not inclined to bite during the day, they can hitch a ride home with you—leading to problems with residential or building infestation.

Bed bugs—they aren’t just for bedrooms anymore

The bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is a flat, brownish-red insect that feeds on the blood of sleeping humans and animals.  As adults, they are about the size of an apple seed, and they hide anywhere they can drop and wait for a nocturnal meal.  Bed bugs are not known to spread disease, and they are terrifically difficult to eradicate.

Although Buzzfeed may have fumigated their offices, bed bugs are a whole-building problem that requires vigilance and best practices on the part of all occupants of the space.  Once an infestation has occurred in a public space or building, the chore is deterrence and surveillance—without both, they’ll be back.

Pop quiz—which of these types of places has not been known to harbor bed bugs?

  • Theatres
  • Restaurants
  • Libraries
  • Retails stores
  • Factories
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels and other accommodations
  • Public buildings
  • Offices
  • Outpatient health care facilities
  • Mass transit, subway, trains, taxis

Okay—you knew it was a trick question, right?  Bed bugs are found anywhere humans and animals are found. While these sites might not harbor large populations, they can provide a ready pool of bugs to jump in your purse, on your coat, backpack, or on your shoe. In the last decade, bedbugs have made an aggressive return to cities, spurred by increasing resistance to pesticides, transmission by traveling populations, and rebound after DDT went out of style as a preventative.

Bed bugs are not new, they are just back. Remember the sweet night time saying, “don’t let the bed bugs bite?” Well, it isn’t so sweet.  Older generations knew to keep their purse and hat in their lap in the theatre, instead of the seat or couch next to them.  Bed bugs like to hop a ride, and can easily do so in a crowded theatre, subway, or other venue. 

Who you gonna call?

Unless it cannot be avoided, most commercial and residential property owners do not alert social media when they have a bed bug problem.  Even the most expensive hotels have bed bug problems, which are quietly and quickly managed.  So what can you do if you happen to work in a charming older—or newer—building that could have a bed bug problem?

Office management and HR must respond to signs of bed bugs.  Quick action is essential to avoid damage to brand reputation, a bigger infestation, or potential legal claims from affected workers.  For HR, the most effective tool is education, letting workers know of the problem and providing information about recognizing bedbugs in their home or workspace. Bed bugs can be brought to work unknowingly by workers who do not realize they have an infestation at home. If a source is identified, the worker may need confidential help ridding their home of the bugs, without bringing them back to your workspace.

Bugs are not just inside computers—they could be behind yours. Know what to look for and how to handle your workplace if it turns out bed bugs are bugging you.

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