Bonnie the bed bug beagle

NPC is launching the latest weapon against vermin

Sean Baker stands with his team of pest control workers and Bonnie the beagle.
Sean Baker stands with his team of pest control workers and Bonnie the beagle.
Workers from National Pest Control inspect a mattress for bed bugs.
Workers from National Pest Control inspect a mattress for bed bugs.

Standing on top of a ladder, staring into the eyes of a rat is not an average day at work for some, but that’s what happened to Sean Baker, of National Pest Control (NPC) when he investigated reports of a rustling sound in the ceiling of an office.

“I was carrying out a survey of oil company premises when employees in the office reported scuffling sounds above the ceiling. As I lifted up one of the ceiling panels, a rat came darting out straight towards my face. I have never jumped off a ladder so quickly in my entire life,” he said.

“The most common areas for vermin in Dubai are the big developments where buildings are being constructed. During the time of construction, there are hundreds and thousands of labourers working and eating on a building site. This draws in pests and insects and is often where rodent populations will explode. Rats and mice love dirt and discarded food.

“Often when a building owner takes on his nice new shiny clean building, little does he know there are thousands of rats running around the site. We try to come in at the very start of a development to educate clients and work with the facilities manager who will take over the operations of the building.”

Baker has been the managing director of NPC since it was established in Dubai in 1992. It is one of the largest pest control companies in the UAE and the largest in Dubai.
It celebrates its 20th anniversary next year and to coincide with the event, it is launching the first ever beagle service to sniff out bed bugs.

He has just one beagle to start with — Bonnie — which he plans to train himself over the next few months.

“In the last 20 years, the number of bed bugs has increased because people travel a lot more. Before, bed bugs were mainly confined to the sub continent. We initially only had a few problems of bed bugs in the labour camps in the UAE, where crowds of people live together, but now there are more instances of bed bugs in villas and apartments where we never used to get them,” he said.

“We have seen incidents of bed bugs in hotels, cinemas, taxis. People are commuting and travelling more, mixing more, going to more exotic places, the creatures are a human parasite and they follow us around.”

Baker said Bonnie the beagle will be the first dog in the Middle East to sniff out bed bugs.

“The dogs have far more efficient senses than the human eye. Sometimes you can check a room and find nothing. Or, you find the bed bugs but you can’t find the eggs. A well trained dog will go straight to it.

“A lot of the time, guests will assume that bed bugs lie in the bedding and the sheets in hotels but these are regularly washed. More often the creatures will nest in the seams of the valances under the bed, which don’t get cleaned as regularly. We try to work closely with the hotels in putting in scheduled cleaning regimes to eradicate this sort of thing.”

Baker has seen a lot of unusual things during his time in the job. In one incident, he was sent to a TV network cable company where employees were complaining about getting bites on their hands while they were working.

A lot of people in the building were complaining that if the biting was not resolved they would go on strike. It was the main transmission centre where they did all the shows but the management couldn’t find anything. Even as they were typing, the insects were coming onto their hands and getting into the creases of the skin of their fingers.

“We did a thorough search of the property and found a dead pigeon on a window ledge connected to the main control room, where everyone was complaining,” added Baker.

Where the pigeon had died, tiny bird mites had crawled out and spread into the office where they started biting people. We are talking about one dead pigeon which had affected the moral of staff so much that they weren’t willing to come to work.

“You see everything in pest control like the way people live, back of house in hotels and restaurants, how much a business conforms to the ethics of society and hundreds of causes of pest issues which could be easily resolved through education and awareness.”

Daily operations
NPC provides pest control services for various types of properties and all pests that pose a threat to human health including rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, flies, ants, fleas, wild cats, termites, red back spiders and snakes, to name a few.

Most of the business is done through word of mouth. It also develops itself through promotions and targeted clients such as FM companies, hotels, leading food manufacturers, any type of employer that has a direct need for its pest control services.

Some of the FM companies it works with include IDAMA, Concordia, Thiess Services Middle East, Emrill, DuServe and Farnek-Avireal.

“We try to get involved in the development of a building with the contractor before it opens to the public.

“A lot of FMs we deal with are tendering for work before the building is complete and we try to provide advice from an early stage. A lot of it is to make sure the building is regularly and completely pest controlled before it is handed over to the building owner and before people move in,” said Baker.

“A lot of work we see, regarding pest control, at the building stage is not adequate enough. It’s very symbolic, employers think that by getting a certificate it will mean they don’t have to think about the issues once a building is handed over but this is not true. FMs need to work very closely with the building contractor to put a good pest control programme in place.”

According to Baker, the most common cause of concern is the communal rubbish areas in apartment blocks, residential units and restaurants.

“FM companies get frustrated when certain things haven’t been considered, like the height of the ramp leading to the garbage compact area. Often they are too high so that the truck can’t get to the rubbish properly.
“It is obvious simple things like that ultimately affect hygiene and pest control issues as well.”

He said a lot of the time when NPC goes visits a client, it will move the garbage compactor in delivery rooms only to discover thousands of fly lavae breeding in the rubbish, which hasn’t been cleaned away.

“Cockroaches can breed in the rubbish shoot of a building or at the bottom of the compactor area. We go in and inspect it then we will apply gels in areas where we expect regular problems and a pesticide according to whether they have a problem or not.”

NPC follows the regulations set by Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which uses an environmentally sensitive approach based on common-sense practices such as monitoring the life cycles of pests, available control methods, managing its damage by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

It does not use one single pest control method but, a series of management evaluations, decisions and controls.

“IPM has an internationally recognised set of standards. The principle fundamentals are identifying the source of the problem and basing your control methods on that and see if you can remove the cause through non chemical control methods,” said Baker.

“A lot of the time, the solution is educating the client or by using non harmful physical control methods, such as filling up a hole where rats come through, or using a chemical that presents the least amount of risk to people’s health.”

NPC also uses technical apparatus to identify insects, such as specially designed cameras which look down drainage systems to look at the cause
of fly issues.

“We had an incident once where there was a drainage system designed for a mock aircraft as part of its training school for staff. However, the correct standard drainage system had not been fitted properly, which meant flies could breed in the drainage pipe, causing an infestation,” added Baker.

“The most important insects to control are mosquitoes. We have the mosquito species here that could spread malaria. This hasn’t happened yet but there is always that risk that there could be an outbreak, therefore mosquito control is very important.”

Baker said all new lakes being built on developments can create a lot of fly and mosquito issues which is often an after-thought on the design plans.

“There are certain aspects in the design to reduce ways in which flies and mosquitoes breed on the lakes, including steep side banks, no encroaching vegetation and water circulation.
“If the bank has a shingle side, the eggs manage to rest on the bank and don’t get washed away. But, if it’s a steep river bank they get washed away.”

Shopping malls
NPC works direct with malls and retail outlets as well as MAF Dalkia, which carries out a lot of contract work at most malls in Dubai.

“Where you get a lot of people coming together, you get a lot of pests, rubbish, sewage, garbage and food waste. People create pests and malls can be really challenging,” said Baker.

“Sometimes you’ll have a contract with a mall but that may only cover common areas. You have then got hundreds of independent retailers and lots of challenging issues to control. Problems move from one area to another so you don’t have full control of everything.

There are multiple tenants, and multiple numbers of people moving through. Different delivery trucks from suppliers, different nationalities and different companies. You can’t teach them all how to throw their rubbish in the bin.”

According to Baker, most problems are consistent throughout the year. When the weather cools down slightly there are more flies, when it warms up there are more cockroach problems, but there is nothing seasonal.

“We try to be clear on client expectations and what we can achieve but sometimes they expect more because they don’t understand the cause of the issues which they need to rectify themselves.

It is a two way relationship and it can be difficult if we are not speaking to the right person because the information hasn’t got through and leads to a lack of communication. There is a need for consistency on all levels.”

NPC has 130 staff across the UAE and 90 technicians. Each technician is given their main schedule for the week and more jobs are added to that each day.

“All the services are tracked, which shows us which ones are outstanding and which ones are not complete and need following up.

“We were the first company in Dubai to design our own operational CRM system. We have a checklist of all jobs and make sure everyone is aware of what the issues are and how they are resolved. It shows what we do is done with diligence which reassures everyone,” he added.

“Most of the work comes down to the technician. We make sure they are fully trained, and fully supported by an operations team and technical equipment.

“We make sure everything he needs for the week is in his van for every type of job. This includes anything from a range of chemicals, traps and application and inspection equipment.”

He said in the last 20 years, pest control industry standards have improved, thanks to upcoming businesses understanding modern pest control standards.

“When I first came to Dubai, a lot of businesses thought pest control was about one man standing with a sprayer and that’s all they wanted to pay for. Now, you have modern FM providers that understand pest control far more and understand the benefits of good pest control,” added Baker.

“We have been able to be at the forefront of that development. We work closely with Dubai Municipality and big businesses out here.

“We were the first company to introduce an on-site documentation system and introduce tamper proof rat boxes. People weren’t using them before because they wouldn’t pay for them. But we have proven their success to the client justifying the cost of using them.

“We have also found people are more informed of things through the internet. The industry has raised its level. But, we still want to develop it further.”

Baker is a member of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), which is based in the US.

He recently took part in a meeting to discuss setting up a National Pest Management Association in the Middle East.

This would involve regular forums and asking governing bodies to further develop pest management regulations.

About 10 CEOs and industry professionals attended the first meeting with the president of the association just before Christmas.

“We were asked for our thoughts on how a Middle East association could work over here.

“It was amazing how everyone opened up their thoughts to the discussion and brought their ideas to the table. It felt very postive and encouraging.

‘We are competitors in this field and we don’t normally share information but we saw how we all face the same problems and want to draw in the government and find out what systems we can use to increase the level of control and safety to our customers. Protecting the environment was a key issue. The next step is speaking to the government and municipality departments and taking it from there.”

Top 10 UAE pests
• Rats and mice
• Cockroaches
• Bed bugs
• Mosquitoes
• Flies
• Ants
• Fleas
• Wild cats
• Termites
• Red back spiders

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