Bug busters fighting back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am

Cheap customers are the bane of firms trying to eke out a living

Dealing with household pests is not a job for the squeamish but it is vital to prevent the spread of disease and epidemics.

Hongkongers who experienced the outbreak of Sars are far more health conscious and the government is continuing its efforts to promote the importance of sanitation and strengthen awareness at personal, household and community levels through various campaigns.

As a result more households and businesses are taking more stringent hygiene measures to ensure that living and working environments are well guarded against potential hazards created by pests.

This is good news for pest control companies, but they face a downside. Competition among pest control service providers does not so much revolve around the number of companies on the market or the quality of service they offer, but the price.

Joe Chung Hin-chi, a surveyor at Rentokil Initial (HK), said that the majority of his customers considered price as key to selecting a service provider.

'Customers ask for quotations from various companies and hire the one offering the lowest service fee. This means they consider the company's reputation and service standard are low priorities,' Mr Chung said.

While pest control is important to public health, many people do not want to be in the line of work and they do not think there is much of a career future.

Louis Wong Lik-yeung, co-owner of Pest Guy Exterminating, said: 'Wages for pest control technicians are relatively low compared with other industries. Most pest control technicians set up their own companies after working in the field for a few years and learning enough about how the business operates.'

Raymond To Wai-man, sales manager at Rentokil Initial (HK), said that food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies were his major clients and that they required a special type of pest control service.

'Food and pharmaceutical companies are at the top of our customer list. Because these companies have to comply with the global hygiene standards set out by Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point and Good Manufacturing Practice, we offer an integrated service including electronic detection, hygiene advice provided by our field biologists on how to prevent infestation, advice on sanitation, and we install a non-toxic pesticide device at our clients' premises to prevent pest infestation. We also provide maintenance and replacement within the contractual period,' Mr To said.

While food processing and pharmaceutical companies demand reliable and reputable pest control service, there are several other commercial sectors which also require equally specialised service.

Mr Wong said: 'Food and beverage outlets, homes, yachts, schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, museums, and temples and churches all need quality pest control services.'

Mr To said most companies required a seasonal service to keep pests at bay while others required a more frequent schedule, such as every quarter, or if the weather was hot and humid with a lot of rain.

Pest control is a hazardous job so most pest control companies require their technicians to attend several in-house training programmes to ensure that they are well aware of the usage of chemicals and treatments, and the potential danger when applying different pesticides.

'Our company has designed an in-house training programme that covers topics from pest biology and knowledge on how to use various pesticides and following safety procedures before, during and after a pest control treatment,' Mr To said.

Safety measures are vital for pest control technicians. They must wear comprehensive protection gear such as surgical masks, caps and latex gloves to prevent them from inhaling toxins from sprays and to ensure that there is no body contact.

There are no government regulations to enforce training for people in this industry. However companies that provide fumigation services must possess a certificate issued by the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Environmental activists and concern groups such as Greenpeace International are urging the government to legislate and impose measures to keep the city clean and livable. As a result, industries must look at new ways to manufacture to minimise emission of chemicals and hazardous substances.

Mr Wong said: 'Local pest control operators are starting to promote integrated pest management by using fewer chemicals and practicing 'physical treatment methods', by which blocks are built in to rodent pathways to minimise the use of poisonous bait. However, only about 10 per cent of our clients choose to use the method to eliminate rodents and the rest still prefer the conventional treatment as they think it will do the job better.'

Key players

Divisional manager

Sales manager

Field biologist


Service manager




Angel dust a kind of toxic contact dust used to kill rodents

Haven box an electronic mousetrap which suffocates trapped mice with carbon dioxide

Midgeater a mosquito trapping device fuelled by liquidised petroleum gas

Snake king describes a snake-catching professional who can catch snakes using only bare hands

Fumigation gaseous chemicals are used in an enclosed space to eliminate pests and insects that reside in cracks, crevices and pores in wood where other types of pesticide cannot reach