Pest control legal issues

Man in brown work clothes holding pest control machine in front of silver van

Some of the key areas where legislation is likely to affect your pest control business are listed below. 

In particular, as a professional user of pesticides and biocides you must make sure that you meet your legal obligations to store, handle, use and dispose of them safely. It's very important that you and your staff are suitably trained in this respect and understand how to protect themselves, other people, wildlife and the environment.

As well as legislation covering your own business activities, it may be helpful to become familiar with the details of legislation that affects other businesses - your potential customers - and requires them to carry out effective pest control for public health and hygiene reasons. Food businesses in particular, including those that manufacture, transport and store food, are required to take steps to prevent and control infestation. All employers must protect their employees from the potentially harmful effects of pest infestations in the workplace - potential hazards include diseases, slips on bird droppings and insect bites.

What licences does a pest control business need?

You have a legal obligation to ensure that you and your staff are properly trained to be able to use pesticides safely and competently.

Anyone using professional pesticide products must obtain a Certificate of Competence (or Specified Certificate) in the Safe Use of Pesticides. You can find out more about this on the National Proficiency Tests Council (NPTC) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Pesticides websites. NPTC is the recognised issuer of pesticide certificates in the UK, and offers operation-specific certification in areas that include handheld applicator use, granule and slug pellet application, and fogging, misting and smokes - in addition to basic safe handling and use of pesticides certification.

Note that from June 2016 anyone buying or using 'professional only' anti-coagulant rodenticides will need to provide evidence to certify that they are appropriately trained in managing and mitigating risks to wildlife.

Pest control professionals who want to demonstrate their commitment to high standards and continuing professional education can register with the BASIS PROMPT Professional Pest Controllers Register. Registered pest controllers must abide by a code of ethics covering the sale, use and provision of advice about pest control products. You can find out more about registration on the BASIS website.

If you intend to manufacture or compound any of the pesticides that you will be using then you should contact the HSE - or the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) - to find out about any requirement to register the product and obtain an HSE approval number. REACH regulations - registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals - require businesses that manufacture or import (from outside the EU) one tonne or more of any chemical substance to register a dossier of information about the substance with the European Chemicals Agency.

All biocidal products that you use in the course of your professional pest control activities must be approved for the purpose and must carry an HSE approval number. Approved biocidal products are listed on the 'Article 95 list' under EU biocide rules.

There's more information about pesticides, biocides and REACH regulations on the HSE website.

If you are intending to offer the control of bird pests and certain other protected species, the Wildlife and Countryside Act and regulations made under it require you to obtain the appropriate licence. In some cases, pest control activities like killing feral pigeons for public health purposes are covered by a general licence. In other cases a class licence may be needed. Personal individual licences are also available for activities not covered by either a general or a class licence. You can find out more about general and other wildlife licences on the website.

Waste registration

Any business which produces 500kg or more of hazardous waste at a premises in Wales within a 12 month period must register with Natural Resources Wales as a hazardous waste producer. If you produce 500kg or more of hazardous waste at a single customer's site (or at any other site which you do not own or occupy) then it is up to the owner of that site to register. If you remove the hazardous waste from your clients' sites, and this amounts to 500kg or more in total for a 12 month period, then your own premises or depot must be registered as a 'service premises'. You can find out more about hazardous waste producer registration and apply to register on the website.

You will also need to register as a lower tier waste carrier (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a professional collector or transporter of waste (Scotland) if - as is likely - you carry away waste that you have generated in the course of your pest control activities. Registration is free of charge and lasts indefinitely. Waste registration is dealt with by the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland.

Animal welfare and wildlife protection legislation

It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. This is relevant to you when using cages and traps. It is often preferable to use pest control techniques that avoid killing the animal, particularly when dealing with birds and mammals. If it is necessary to kill the animal then this should be done using the most humane method available.

Wildlife conservation legislation gives general protection to wild animals. The regulations do permit pest species to be controlled - usually moved or killed - for the purposes of public health and safety. But you'll need to make sure you follow the rules and obtain any necessary licences. There's more about wildlife protection legislation on the website.

Note that special legislation prohibits the use of certain pesticides and biocides which may cause undue suffering to animals.

Control of pesticides and biocides

As an employer, you must ensure that all employees who use pesticides and biocides are provided with appropriate instruction and training. Anyone using pesticides must be certified to be adequately trained and also take reasonable precautions to protect human health, creatures and plants and to protect the environment and not pollute water.

Most proprietary pesticide compounds have statutory conditions of use, meaning that you must only use them in the manner that they are intended. The manufacturers and distributors of the products you use should be able to give you full details.

Two or more pesticides must not be mixed together, be given away or sold to people for their own use and all pesticides must be stored and carried in correctly labelled original containers. You should ensure there is a sign on your pesticide store that shows a black exclamation mark on a yellow background.

You can find out more about the safe use of pesticides by visiting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Note that many chemicals, including biocides, are covered by Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) Regulations. You should ask your suppliers if the pesticides and other chemicals you use are covered by REACH and, if so, take the necessary steps to ensure that you comply with your obligations as a user. You can find out more about REACH on the HSE website. The HSE website also includes information for professionals on the safe use of biocides.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)

These regulations cover the use, storage and sale of substances such as baits and pesticides to prevent people from being harmed by them. As an employer, you must ensure that you assess the risks in the workplace of harmful substances and minimise or eliminate those risks. Contact your local authority environmental health department for guidance. More information about COSHH regulations is also available on the HSE and HSE Northern Ireland websites.

Organic farming

The stringent rules that apply to organic farming mean that traditional pest control methods of using baits, poisons and pesticides are not permitted. The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) can provide members with guidelines as to what type of pest control is acceptable on an organic farm.

Pesticides and the environment

A very important aspect of ensuring the safe use of pesticides is avoiding causing any unnecessary harm to the environment, including plants, wildlife, watercourses, soil and the atmosphere. Information for businesses that store, supply, use and dispose of pesticides is available on the HSE website.

Personal protective equipment at work

People working in the pest control sector may be exposed to several potentially harmful substances on a regular basis, for example pesticides, bait and so on. You must consider what protective clothing you will provide to minimise the risks to health. Make sure your employees use the protective clothing correctly and arrange for it to be laundered on a regular basis. You can find out more about personal protective equipment (PPE) on the HSE and HSENI websites.

Waste disposal

The disposal of hazardous wastes such as pesticide containers, old bait and traps, animal carcasses and so on is strictly regulated. You must use an authorised waste carrier to collect and dispose of any waste of this type that your business generates. Contact the Environment Agency or the devolved regional equivalent for further information and details of authorised waste carriers in your area.

More information about waste and environmental protection and management is available on the website.

Consumer protection

Most people have heard horror stories about cowboy contractors and rogue traders. There is consumer protection legislation to protect customers from unscrupulous and dishonest activities. Legislation covers fair trading in general, and specific areas such as:

  • making false claims about credentials - for example pretending to hold a particular qualification or membership
  • using scare tactics to bully or trick customers into using your services
  • 'cooling-off periods' to allow customers time to think about whether they really want the services that they've signed up to
  • contracts being fair
  • services being of adequate quality

Your local Trading Standards Department should be able to advise you on how consumer protection legislation affects your business. You can also get information on consumer protection and fair trading legislation on the Trading Standards Business Companion and websites.

Getting more help with legal matters

The National Pest Technicians Association (NPTA) offers its members a legal advice service. You can find out more about this and other membership benefits and get contact details for the NPTA on their website.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for a pest control business

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • public liability
  • professional indemnity
  • sports equipment
  • personal accident
  • critical illness
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • employer's liability (if you have any employees)
  • motor insurance

The National Register of Personal Trainers (NRPT) checks and requires that prospective new members have adequate personal trainer liability insurance and can arrange a specialist personal trainer insurance package for members. The NRPT website includes further details. When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

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