Preparing for the Field Biologist

Be prepared for your pest (field biologist) audit.  A field biologist is a special sort of auditor. The field biologist has specific biological training, a broad range of pest management  training and experience in the management of pest risk in complex facilities with quality control systems in place such as food production, commercial, transport, health. The Field Biologist should not be an employee or contractor of any business that works on the site, but should be an independent professional. Contractor’s field biologists can still provide useful surveys but these are essentially less valuable than those performed independently.

The regular audit process is important for meeting supplier contract requirements, for improving efficiency and for reducing the risk of pest impacts. Disease carrying pests can contaminate any surface. The presence of pests, parts of pests, their faeces or their urine in product can be economically very damaging. The audit process gives clients confidence that pest risk management is proceeding at an appropriate level and that the risk to products is minimal.

Audits typically are required between once and four times a year depending on the nature of the business and the client’s specifications.

There is a tendency for QA staff to try to ensure that the site is particularly neat and tidy before an inspection. This can make the identification of problems harder and can reduce the chances of early detection of developing major risks. The site should be presented as normal and to ensure this, staff should not be given prior warning beyond that required for safety.

The auditor will want to inspect the whole site or at least have unfettered access. The taking of many photographs is normal. Where a site normally has photographic restriction or areas where intellectual property may be at risk of disclosure, these should be identified before the audit begins and the auditor made fully aware so that necessary photographs do not reveal unwanted detail. The auditor will also at times want to collect samples of pests, spills, dust & debris or other material that may reveal pest activity.

The auditor should be met on arrival, provided with any necessary safety information, given time to complete any documentation and be given a briefing to discuss the process to be undertaken and any risks or restrictions.

The auditor should be supplied with site schematics and maps showing the location of all pest management installations (fly traps, rodent units, monitoring devices, fixed fogging devices etc.). Where rodents live traps are used, the auditor should be able to inspect records of daily inspection and captures. Where rodent baits are used, the site maps should clearly delimit areas where monitoring bait is used and areas where toxic bait is used. In the rare circumstance that rodent glue boards are used, the records should show at least daily inspection.

It is useful to inform floor managers of the process and to have a staff member to accompany the auditor. The accompanying staff member should have an intimate knowledge of the site and its processes and be able to answer questions that arise. This can be important for safety where unusual plant is in operation or for example, where automated processes such as robot forklifts may not be programmed to avoid people in particular areas. While it is possible to inspect a site that is closed or inactive, the audit can be more valuable when the site is active and it is possible to observe the normal actions of staff. For this reason too, it is often best if the audit takes place in the middle of a shift rather than at the beginning or during clean-up. Where it is not possible to fully assess the site, the auditor will note limitations and may request a return visit.

The auditor will need to see documentation, SDS sheets, contractor information, pest sighting registers, regular service reports and trend plots. It is helpful to inform the auditor of actions/programs in place to inform staff of pest recognition, reporting and pest risk reduction.

Where there have been problems with pests, it can be useful to have a pest technician (who regularly services the site) available to explain what has been done and why.

Sometimes there are some pest management actions undertaken by site staff rather than contractors. It is important that the auditor be able to identify any such processes, the products, locations and people involved and the records of the work, just as they would for the professional service.

Where business clients have particular needs or concerns, it is important that these are discussed with the auditor before the process begins. It can be helpful to supply a new auditor with reports or records that establish the history of management actions, site or plant changes and pest events.

 

© Don Ewart 2018