Unwanted creatures that infest buildings or surrounding areas can pose serious risks to health and safety. Pest control workers remove these creatures from households, apartment buildings, places of businesses, and other structures, to protect people and maintain structural integrity.
Common pests include roaches, rats, mice, spiders, termites, ants, and bedbugs. Using information about pests' biology and habits, along with an arsenal of pest management techniques, pest control workers locate, identify, and remove pests. They set traps, apply pesticides, and even modify structures at the discretion of the customer.
Many pest problems require pesticide application. Pest control workers use two different types of pesticides—general use and restricted use. General use pesticides are the most widely used and are available in diluted concentrations to the public. Restricted use pesticides are used for the most severe infestations and are available only to licensed professionals. Because of their potential harm to pest control workers, customers, and the environment, restricted-use pesticides are heavily regulated by Federal law.
For some jobs, pest control workers use a combination of pest management techniques, a practice known as integrated pest management. One method involves using proper sanitation and creating physical barriers. Pests cannot survive without food and will not infest a building if they cannot enter it. Another method involves using baits that either destroy the pests or prevent them from reproducing. Yet another method involves using mechanical devices, such as traps, that remove pests from the immediate environment.
Some workers use pest-management technology to make home inspections more efficient. This technology, which uses microchips to identify areas of pest activity, is used most frequently for termites. The chips, which are placed in baiting stations, emit signals that can tell pest control workers if is termites are present. Workers pick up the signals using a device similar to a metal detector, allowing them to quickly evaluate an entire building.
Pest control workers generally can be divided into three categories: technicians, applicators, and supervisors. Position titles and job duties vary by State, however.
Pest control technicians are usually entry-level workers who identify potential pest problems, conduct inspections, and design control strategies. They work directly with the customer and are permitted to apply a limited range of pesticides.
Applicators perform more complex tasks, are able to use a wider range of pesticides, and may specialize in a certain area of pest control. Those that specialize in controlling termites are called termite control technicians. They use chemicals and modify structures to eliminate termites and prevent future infestation. To treat infested areas, termite control technicians drill holes and cut openings into buildings to access infestations and install physical barriers or bait systems around the structure. Some termite control technicians even repair structural damage caused by termites.
Applicators that specialize in fumigation are called Fumigators. These workers use poisonous gases, called fumigants, to treat serious infestations. Fumigators pre-treat infested buildings by examining, measuring, and sealing the buildings. Then, using cylinders, hoses, and valves, they fill structures with the proper amount and concentration of fumigant. To prevent accidental fumigant exposure, fumigators padlock doors, post warning signs, and monitor buildings closely to detect and stop leaks.
Pest control supervisors, also known as operators, direct technicians and applicators. Supervisors are licensed to apply pesticides, but they usually are more involved in running the business. Many supervisors own their own business. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that employees obey rules regarding pesticide use and resolving any problems that arise with regulatory officials or customers. Most States require each pest control establishment to have a supervisor.
Pest control workers held about 86,800 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of pest control workers were as follows:
- Exterminating and pest control services - 88%
- Self-employed workers - 7%
Pest control workers must travel to a client’s home or business. They work both indoors and outdoors, in all types of weather.
Injuries and Illnesses
Pest control workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. These workers are susceptible to strains and sprains because they may need to kneel, bend, and crawl in tight spaces. In addition, some pesticides are toxic and may be harmful to humans, so workers must take precautions when using such chemicals.
All pesticide products are reviewed and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and workers must follow label directions. Pest control workers are trained and licensed for pesticide use and must wear protective equipment, including gloves, goggles, and respirators, to reduce the risk of harm.
Most pest control workers are employed full time. Working evenings and weekends is common. Some work more than 40 hours per week.
Education & Training Required
A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum qualification for most pest control jobs, but some jobs may not require any formal education. A college degree may be required for other jobs. Most pest control workers may begin their careers as technicians. They often receive both formal classroom and on-the-job training provided by the employer, but they also may be required to study on their own. Training usually involves a combination of classroom study and on-the-job experience for each category of work that the pest control worker would like to perform. Categories may include general pest control, rodent control, termite control, fumigation, and ornamental and turf control. In addition, technicians must attend general training in pesticide safety and use. Pest control workers usually can complete this training in fewer than 3 months.
After completing the required training, workers can provide supervised pest control services. Because pest control methods change, workers often attend continuing education classes, which are frequently provided by product manufacturers.
Pest control workers must be licensed. Requirements vary by State, but pest control workers generally must undergo training and pass an examination. Some States also require workers to have a high school diploma or equivalent and pass a background check; some also have additional requirements for applicators and operators. Most pest control firms provide training and help their employees prepare for the examination. In some States, individuals may be able to work as apprentices before becoming licensed.
Other Skills Required
Pest control workers must be in good health, because of the physical demands of the job, and they also must be able to withstand uncomfortable conditions—such as the heat of climbing into an attic in the summertime or the chill of sliding into a crawlspace during winter. In addition, many pest control companies require their employees to have a good driving record.
How to Advance
Advancement opportunities come with experience in the field. After a designated number of years on the job, technicians may advance to become applicators. Applicators with several years of experience often become supervisors. Some experienced workers may start their own pest management company. Pest control workers in large organizations may advance into administrative positions, although a college degree may be required for such opportunities.
Employment of pest control workers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 12,800 openings for pest control workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
The growing number of invasive insect species, such as stink bugs, is expected to further increase demand for pest control services. Although some people may choose to control pests themselves, most customers prefer to hire professional pest control services.
The median annual wage for pest control workers was $37,540 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,660.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for pest control workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Exterminating and pest control services - $37,460
Most pest control workers are employed full-time. Working evenings and weekends is common. Some work more than 40 hours per week.