Pest Risk Management – The Future of Commercial Pest Control?

Raja Mahendran shares his thoughts on how customer demand for reduced insecticide use should shape the future of commercial pest control.

The future of commercial pest control is not in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – the future of pest control is in Pest Risk Management. What is Pest Risk Management and why is it the future of pest control even when many companies are not even applying IPM?


What is meant by ‘IPM’?

IPM is an archaic concept introduced in crop protection in the 1970s, in response to protests by environmentalists over the negative side effects of pesticide overuse. The key principle of IPM is that by monitoring pest levels, pesticides are only applied when pest levels reach a level of economic significance i.e. that the cost of pest damage would be higher than the cost of applying the pesticide. The farmer’s decision of when to apply a pesticide would be based on data and financial benefit. With pesticide only applied when required (rather than all the time), pesticide use would be reduced with associated environmental benefit. It then evolved to include a range of non-chemical pest management techniques to reduce pest numbers without the need for applying pesticides.


What is IPM in the context of urban pest control?

The IPM concept was adopted by the urban pest control industry to counter pressure by the environmental movement. The practice of IPM by pest managers in the urban situation has turned out to be a challenge. Not only because the basic premise of IPM is different in urban pest control – clients don’t want any pests, it’s not about acting when there is an ‘economically significant’ number – but because the industry did not set the right expectation for IPM with the clients. With a range of non-chemical actions required, in general the industry expected the client alone to do proofing (exclusion) and improve the hygiene. Often, there is no agreed actionable plan with the client as to who is responsible for the tasks. The industry focus has been on applying pesticides and using some non-pesticide tools such as traps – all while claiming to provide IPM services.

Most customers and indeed many pest managers do not understand what IPM is and view it in simplistic terms as reduced pesticide use or ‘environmentally friendly’ pest control. There is certainly increasing demand for reducing pesticide use and environmentally smart pest management, and this is where Pest Risk Management comes to the fore.


What is Pest Risk Management?

Pest Risk Management is a more meaningful concept for urban pest management. Pest Risk Management is the “evaluation and selection of options to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of a pest”.1

This becomes a more involved process of assessing the potential factors that could lead to pest problems, eliminating these potential risk factors, monitoring pest levels, and then data-based application of suitable control programs. It is a sustainable program that results in the reduction of pests, reduction in volume of pesticides used and increasing the value of the services provided by the pest manager.

The aim of Pest Risk Management is to achieve better results by placing control tools strategically to achieve the maximum pest reduction, while minimising any impact towards humans, food, property, and the environment. During the Pest Risk Management process the key word to remember is to care. Care for your clients, your team and the environment.


IPM vs Pest Risk Management


Exclusion and hygiene are key elements of Pest Risk Management

Pesticide applications alone will not deliver the desired outcome – non-chemical methods should be your first approach in controlling pests. Non-chemical control methods may be simple but can contribute greatly to successful pest control outcomes. Figure 1 shows the potential for reducing a population of cockroaches by improving hygiene and habitat modification (exclusion). If 80% pest reduction can be achieved by sanitation and exclusion, we should focus on these actions before using chemicals.


Figure 1: Cockroach populations can often be drastically reduced by sanitation and eliminating harbourages (source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA)


Implementing Risk Pest Management

The manager of a commercial property contacts you asking for help with a pest problem. The inspection will tell you which pests are found where, but doesn’t tell you why they are found in a particular location. Hence you need to do a root cause analysis. You do this by asking “why” to your questions until you have an answer that doesn’t give rise to another question – then you have the root cause (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Pest Risk Management Process (© Raja Mahendran, 2023)


This is followed by a risk assessment on the pest. Termites in a steel factory are not a threat to the steel. Flies in a food processing plant or in a restaurant present a huge health and brand risk. It is important to keep in mind the threat level that the identified pest poses to the business.

Your first step towards control should be exclusion. Block all points of pest entry. Don’t expect the client to do this; this can be done by the pest manager themselves by sealing openings. This is an added value service and often can be completed with sealant, fillers and standard hardware products.

Exclusion is then followed by hygiene improvement. This is vital for the success of the pest control program and should not be left to the client alone. Generally, pest managers are not in a position to carry out ongoing hygiene services, but it’s important to work out a joint actionable program to improve hygiene with deadlines assigned to tasks.

Other non-chemical methods should then be considered followed with an insecticide treatment if required. With customers demanding less pesticide use, chemical methods should not be your first line of defence, although there will be some situations where chemicals will be the best first option.


Restaurant kitchen employee sweeping the floor
An agreed hygiene regime detailing actions and responsibilities is essential


Before applying a chemical treatment, it is essential to zero in on the details of the infestation. Where are the pest hotspots? Do not blindly place bait stations, gel spots, or electric fly traps according to spacings stated on the use instructions; instead do a pest risk assessment and audit of pest numbers. Place more product or hardware closer together where the infestation is high. Place fewer further apart where the infestation is low. Place none in areas where pests are not present. Documenting this approach means you will have no trouble with auditors who may otherwise impose spacings in a blind manner.

Your pest control program needs to be continuously monitored and evaluated, and updated accordingly. This is a critical part of the process. The use of the various automated monitoring systems and increasing use of AI will automate this monitoring, increasing accuracy and efficiencies. Accurate data will allow for better decision-making and better reporting to customers.

Documentation is critical to ensure an effective Pest Risk Management program. Good documentation will not only ensure client satisfaction and increase the value of your service, but it will also result in the continuation of your services. When you commence your contract ensure the client understands and accepts the scope of your service i.e. which pests are included and which are not. Include a floor plan of the areas covered by your program as well as the areas excluded.


Cockroaches caught in a sticky trap
Monitoring activity is required in order to make good pest management decisions


Corrective action plans can be jointly developed with the client to agreed timelines regarding exclusion and hygiene measures. Provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and labels of the chemical products that you will be using at the premises. Share copies of your certifications, licenses, and insurance with the client to demonstrate that you are a responsible professional. Together with your regular service reports, include usage logs on what pesticide you applied at what dosage and mark places applied on the floor plan. Communicate with the client regularly to discuss pest sighting reports and pest trend analysis reports.


Delivering on customer expectations

A Pest Risk Assessment process requires a high level of skill, service and engagement. It means agreeing on a plan with the client, and identifying who is responsible for the tasks that need to be actioned. The added benefit for the pest manager is increased business efficiency following a reduction in pesticide use and reduced on-site servicing with the use of remote monitoring options. The reality is, customers are starting to demand this level of service and now the industry needs to respond.


Raja Mahendran is an international pest business consultant and international speaker, with a passion for helping the pest control industry to transcend from managing pests (IPM) to managing the risks from pests by becoming pest risk managers.

He provides training beyond licensing to help pest managers and pest control product manufacturers prepare for the future of pest control.

[email protected]


1 Griffin, R. and Neeley, A. (2012) ‘Pest risk management theory and background.’, CABI Books. CABI. Doi: 10.1079/9781780640365.0167.

2 Cockroach Control Manual (second edition), University of Nebraska- Lincoln, 2006.