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Monday, 27 April 2015 05:00

Business Continuity Plans: Not Just For Businesses

Written by  Vicki Thomas

Pesticides-Article-4-28-webPesticides. Schools. Children. Daycares. People. Cockroaches.

These words just don’t go together. Now imagine you’re a parent of a child who attended a local Ottawa, Ontario school that was sprayed with a pesticide that is considered toxic and banned for indoor use. Imagine that you found out about this spraying only after it happened and your child came home from school sick with itchy watery eyes, stomach pains and a headache.

On April 11, Rentokill sprayed Charles H. Hulse Public School with Konk 400 which contains Propoxur. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board failed to alert parents, teachers and other school staff about this scheduled spraying. It was only after children, teachers and other school employees started calling in sick with similar symptoms that alarm bells were raised.

"My kids had been going to school all week and I had no idea that the school had been sprayed prior to then," said Ottawa mother Melissa Rutledge. "I'm a little disappointed in that.” (cbc.ca)

To make things worse for the school board, it turns out that the operators of the Andrew Fleck daycare in the school were never told that the school has a cockroach problem. This daycare moved into the school in February and only as a result of this pesticide spraying did it learn that Charles H. Hulse Public School has been dealing with a cockroach problem for a year and a half.

"This doesn't make us feel good because we want to make sure we're always providing a safe environment," she said. "Obviously, we would have appreciated the school being more forthcoming so we could have been communicating with parents. That's all parents ask for — 'Is this the right space for my child?'" daycare executive director Kim Hiscott said. (cbc.ca)

From an initial glance, this small snapshot of the situation highlights how vital it is to communicate with everyone involved. An initial failure to communicate has left school board officials and school staff scrambling to answer questions and deal with a contaminated school. It is now two weeks later, and Charles H. Hulse Public School remains closed. Students, teachers, school staff and the daycare have had to move to another school in the area - causing further disruption for everyone involved. This initial failure to communicate and plan is now resulting in additional expenditures to move students and staff and to clean up the contaminated school.

As this story about the spraying of Konk 400 in one school developed over the last couple of weeks, more details emerged… It turns out that two other schools in Ottawa were also sprayed with this pesticide and we’ve also learned more about Konk 400 and Propoxur:

Propoxur, which has been banned for indoor use in the United States since 2007, was re-evaluated by Health Canada. Last year, it ruled that the pesticide should no longer be used indoors, including in schools and daycares, for safety reasons. It gave the industry two years to comply with the ruling, which means it remains legal for use indoors until 2016.

Pesticide use in Ottawa public schools, now the subject of several investigations at the local, provincial and federal level, is raising questions about why, in a city in which pesticides are banned for lawn and garden use, they were being used to control cockroaches in classrooms, including a daycare where young children play on the floor.

It is also raising questions about why, if Health Canada had determined that it should not be used indoors, it would wait two years for the ruling to take effect, rather than right away.

A Health Canada spokesman said it was continuing to investigate “as to whether there was a violation of the Pest Control Products Act.” (ottawacitizen.com)

Again this comes down to communication and clarity. The details on the use of pesticides and specifically Konk 400 which contains Propoxur are very unclear and this has obviously resulted in its misuse and handling. To further complicate matters, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says its staff did not approve Rentokil’s use of this pesticide in its schools.

"According to our agreement they are to advise us of the product they are using before they use it," said Carson. "It appears that may not have occurred when they switched the product and that's what we're investigating.” said Ottawa-Carleton District School Board superintendent for facilities, Mike Carson. (cbc.ca)

But it only gets worse. Here’s what Rentokil has to say:

Glen Boyet, a spokesman for Rentokil North America, said his company complies with all regulations and labelling procedures when applying pesticides.

But Boyet could not speak to the specifics of the contract with the school board because the Ottawa employee who has it is on holiday. But he said the company is investigating.

"I could not state whether or not such approval was both required or obtained," said Boyet. (cbc.ca)

From a business continuity perspective, this incident is a mess. For the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Health Canada, and Rentokil there are many missteps that have culminated in sick children, an infected daycare center, the time and money spent to move students and staff, upset and concerned parents, and outright confusion over what was actually done and who approved this action.

So what could have been done differently? Honestly, this is a hard question to answer - since we really don’t know where the mistakes initially occurred. This in itself emphasizes the need for business continuity planning in all organization including schools, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. In one incident we are seeing three very different organizations: a school, a government department and a private business who were not prepared and ready for a disruption.

To read more about this incident, use the following links: