Bed Bugs in Office Buildings – a helpful resource

by nobugsonme on July 3, 2010 · 5 comments

in bed bugs, bed bugs in the workplace

In this week in which bed bugs have reared their ugly heads in New York City Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch stores, and in the CBS offices in New York (and many other workplaces elsewhere, to judge by the sampling in our Forums), it is a good time to focus our attention on the challenges and best practices for fighting bed bugs in the workplace.

Larry Pinto, Richard Cooper, and Sandra Kraft are authors of a supplement published in the Feburary 2010 PCT magazine, entitled, “Bed Bugs in Office Buildings: the Ultimate Challenge?”

The supplement was sponsored by a manufacturer (MKG) — which many of us know as the maker of Bedlam, among other products — but don’t let the sponsor’s message put you off.  The article proper is sandwiched between several pages of advertising or sponsor’s message, but pages 3-9 provide solid information both for pest management professionals and for office managers (and I appreciate that this is done without reference to specific brands or products).

The authors highlight the special challenges of fighting bed bugs in the workplace, where bed bug behavior is different, and detection and treatment require a different approach than the home infestation.  It also goes into ethical and legal issues related to a workplace infestation.

I appreciated the emphasis on not playing the “bed bug blame game,” which often ends up being a highlight of news coverage of workplace bed bug infestations.  Typically, the employee who discovered the infestation, or one with a known infestation at home, or one employee who sits near a detected harborage, is singled out as the “source;” in some cases, the individual is fired.  Detecting the actual source of an infestation is often much more complicated and can be difficult if not impossible.  It’s much better not to go there.

One question I had was not about the office setting per se, but is related to the article’s information on canine detection.  The article emphasizes the use of “random blind verification” in canine detection — whereby two separate bed bug canine/handler teams inspect the premises independently, searching the same areas, but without knowing where the other dog alerted.  If both teams alert to the same spot, the alert is “confirmed;” if one team alerts and not the other, the area is “suspect.”

While this does seem like a promising method of verifying dog alerts, we often hear bed bug experts such as Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky calling for visual verification (where a canine handler searches for visual evidence after a dog alerts).   It might be helpful in future to have the relative effectiveness of these two verification methods studied by researchers.

Although the article focuses on an office setting which may differ from other workplace settings in some ways, many of the issues and challenges faced by managers, employees and pest management professionals are the same regardless of the type of workplace.

This document could be a big help for anyone trying to convince their boss to take a workplace infestation seriously and handle it promptly and properly.  (It’s being added to our links/resources page, for future reference.)

You can download this article in PDF form from the PCT website.


Thanks to Rick Cooper of Bed Bug Central for bringing this helpful document to my attention.

See earlier stories on bed bugs in the workplace.

You can also read or comment on our FAQ on bed bug canine scent detection.

1 Doug Summers MS July 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I fully agree with Dr. Potter’s insistence on the need for visual verification of K9 team alerts.

Show Me the Bed Bugs !… is the proper standard for a thorough bed bug inspection.

A consensus on alert locations between experienced K9 teams is useful in some limited situations, but it is still essential to verify even multiple K9 team alerts with compelling evidence of bed bug activity.

If we treat solely on the basis of multiple K9 alerts, then we are simply utilizing a committee of dogs to make treatment decisions that should be made by human pest control operators based on experience, training and statutory requirements.

The K9 team is best used as a screening tool that will lead a competent human inspector to identify locations of interest. Ultimately, the bed bug inspection is visual / physical examination after the K9 team has defined the search area.

I don’t care if we observe a large pack of pest detection dogs that independently alert to the same location… Multiple blind K9 alerts are really not a substitute for the visual / physical evidence that is required for the positive identification of an infestation under a proper IPM program.

I am not aware of a single military or law enforcement K9 agency in the world that routinely utilizes a second dog team to check the first K9 team’s work in the manner that is recommended for Richard Cooper’s Random Blind Verification system.

The worldwide forensic standard is to visually search for the target object to confirm the K9 team’s accuracy… which can be translated to… “Look for the bed bugs”… in this case.

What kind of scientist would argue that multiple dog alerts are somehow more valid than physical evidence?

If we find live bed bug activity with a visual search after the first dog team alerts… why would we need to have a second K9 team on standby?

If the both dog teams generate unproductive alerts or even contradictory results, then we are still going to need to look for some kind of evidence before we can legally initiate treatment in most states.

One major flaw with the Cooper Random Blind Verification K9 system is that the second dog can sense locations where the first team spent extended periods of time and activity.

In other words, the second dog handler may be blind to any locations identified by the first K9 team…but the 2nd dog CAN often determine via the scent picture where the first team stopped and alerted.

There will always be situations when valid K9 alerts cannot be immediately verified due to inaccessible spaces in furnishings, building construction or other logistical restrictions, but we can usually utilize monitoring devices that are left in the area of interest to confirm the K9 alerts with a live specimen or treat on the basis of the totality of the evidence based on the judgment of an experienced PCO.

A forensic case would be laughed out of court if the prosecution tried to argue that the accused should be jailed based on the alerts of two different certified K9 teams despite the fact that no physical trace of contraband was found in any the identified locations.

2 Winston O. Buggy July 5, 2010 at 6:47 am

Offices and work places can be complex environments to provide bug in your hand verification, although the attempt should be made. Partition’s, paper, pendaflex and regular files along with “clutter” can make the visual difficult. One of the plus sites for monitors like the new BDS or simple passive ones. Excellent paper.

3 parakeets July 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I hope OSHA starts looking into employees being exposed to bedbugs in the work environment as a workplace risk. I am also gravely concerned about employees who are fired because they have bedbugs. Right now those cases are covered up, and are very, very few, I’m sure, but I don’t want to see that happen. (Even though it would be nearly impossible for a workplace to keep re-treating if an employee lived in an apartment building that wasn’t effectively treated and kept bringing themto work). I lost access to medical care three times already due to having bedbugs. I’d hate to lose my job. I never talk to anyone at work about having bedbugs. I’m afraid if bedbugs were found at my job, they would become”my” bedbugs.

4 Richard Cooper July 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

I have been out of town for the past week but would like to respond to the comments made by Doug Summers on 7/3.

I found it interesting to read Doug Summers’ comments aout the verification of bed bugs following an alert by a canine scent dog. Actually, for the most part, Mr. Summers and I are on the same page. I agree that a single dog inspection should be enough. I also agree that following an alert, a visual confirmation, but this can be difficult and is often not possible. Again I agree with Mr. Summers that when live bugs cannot be produced the area in question should be monitored using one or more of the current monitoring tools available. So in general, Mr. Summers and I see things pretty much the same way.

Doug Summers also points out that “A forensic case would be laughed out of court if the prosecution tried to argue that the accused should be jailed based on the alerts of two different certified K9 teams despite the fact that no physical trace of contraband was found in any the identified locations.” No argument with Mr. Summers here either. However there is a big difference between the inspections conducted for contraband and/or bombs and the inspections being conducted for bed bugs. The difference is that the inspections for things like contraband or bombs are not being carried out by people who decided last month that it would be a good idea to get into the business of canine scent detection, but that is exactly what is happening in the world of bed bugs.

Firms offering canine scent detection for bed bugs are popping up left and right and this is creating a real problem for the canine scent industry because many of these programs are poorly run and yield less than satisfactory results. I see this as a growing problem as more and more people enter into the canine scent detection industry for the detection of bed bugs.

This doesn’t mean that a pest control companies and other individuals can’t jump into the world canine scent detection and do a great job. I am sure there are some firms and new comers to canine scent that have excellent programs but it is my personal opinion that there are more companies that have no business being in the business of canine scent detection than there are that do, and they are ruining for those that run a quality program. This also places the consumer in a very difficult position when it comes to finding a quality inspection firm.

Perhaps it is the lack of adequate ongoing training programs, or perhaps the quality of the handler that is causing so many false alerts in the field. Regardless of the reason(s), it is not acceptable. I’m not sure I have the answer to this problem but the double blind verification system has been an answer for my firm. Larry Pinto, one of the co authors of “Bed Bugs in Office Buildings: the Ultimate Challenge?” has also used the double blind verification system effectively a number of times during consultations involving office buildings. I am also leaning towards subcontracting canine scent firms that are solely in the business of canine scent detection and have been in this business for many years with a strong track record.

Property owners/managers cannot afford to have anything less than reliable results when contracting canine scent detection services. There is a lot on the line from a public relations perspective, human resources perspective, as well as legal and financial.

My organization has been involved in too many consultations where property managers have had canine scent detection inspections where a dozen or more sites throughout the office space have been identified where a dog alerted, yet no evidence can be found through visual inspection or during subsequent treatments.

What is the cost of all of these “unconfirmed” alerts. When a canine scent inspection results in seventeen different alerts on four different floors in an office building it leads to wide spread concern/panic among workers, it also leads to a huge expense on the part of the property owner/manager to treat and/or monitor a large number of areas where bugs were suspected. The end result can be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars spent and potentially a lot of unnecessary pesticide application.

If I felt that one dog inspections were reliable enough I would not advocate the double blind verification method, however it is another way to help in verifying the results of an inspection and provides clients with a higher level of confidence in the results and can be done in an economically practical fashion. I understand that my comments may get me into some hot water with those offering canine scent inspection services, especially those in the pest management industry, but it is the lack of quality that has caused us to recommend a double blind verification system in the office publication.

Canine scent detection is a very valuable and necessary inspection tool/method. There are no other economically practical methods available to inspect an entire office building, movie theater, college dormitory or hotel, but the results must be reliable.

Perhaps the focus should be less on the type of verification method and more on the accruacy of the inspection results. I appreciate the comments that were made by Doug Summers and his prespective on the subject.

5 nobugsonme July 13, 2010 at 7:10 pm


Thanks for your comments here.

I think everyone can definitely agree on the problems posed by false alerts not being verified.

I hope the industry can work out the kinks on this soon, so consumers are better served by what can be an effective technology. And so consumers aren’t ripped off by ineffective canine scent detection teams.

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