Pests can quickly cause irreparable damage to records. Infestations can easily become established and remain undetected, particularly in storage areas.
There is no 'safe' baseline for pest activity. A plan to control pests will help prevent damage to records.
Pests like silverfish, cockroaches, some beetles and moths, paper lice, rodents, and timber pests such as termites and timber borers can cause direct damage to records.
Pests such as geckos, birds, and spiders, possums, snakes, bats, rodents and timber pests can cause indirect damage to records through droppings or carcasses, nesting habits, webbing, or attracting other pest species.
Most pests reproduce quickly and can generate large numbers of offspring that mature quickly. This means they can cause a significant amount of damage before they are noticed.
Be aware of the conditions that pests prefer. This will help you determine if they are a problem. For example, silverfish prefer dark, damp and enclosed environments, are mostly nocturnal and stay close to their food source. If you see them in daylight hours and/or general areas it may indicate a significant infestation.
Integrated pest management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest control that focuses on preventive measures, environmental controls, alternative non-chemical treatments (e.g. freezing), and the use of pesticides only when necessary.
Pesticides and fumigants should only be used as a last resort. Non-chemical 'passive' alternatives are available.
Some record formats are more susceptible to the chemicals in pesticides than others. Audiovisual formats (photographs, films) are particularly vulnerable. Some electronic devices such as flash drives and portable hard drives could also be damaged by pesticides.
If pesticides must be used, make sure they have a short active life, low toxicity and a reduced risk of damage to records (e.g. pyrethrums and synthetic pyrethroids).
Chemical treatment can be used as a last resort. This may not be effective on all life stages and repeat treatments may be required.
Keep a copy of Safety Data Sheets for all pesticides used.
Most pests need specific environmental conditions to live and reproduce. Controlling storage and environmental conditions will help prevent pests. For example, paper lice feeds on mould, so their presence indicates that conditions are too hot/humid or that the records are or may have been wet.
Key preventive measures include:
- sealing access points, cracks and crevices
- storing records off the ground and away from walls
- regular cleaning, trapping and monitoring.
Don't keep stocks of scrap and packaging materials, or allow other potential food sources in record storage areas. Maintain cool, dry conditions.
There are 3 parts to IPM.
- Environmental strategies
- Cultural strategies
- Biological/chemical control and treatment strategies
By controlling temperature and keeping relative humidity down, you will help preserve your records and make the physical environment less attractive for insects.
Avoid relative humidity levels between 60% and 80%, and other sources of moisture.
Staff and management support is essential for the success of any IPM program.
Staff should be actively encouraged to be pest-aware and become involved. Early reports followed up by the IPM officer enable quick and appropriate action. This will minimise risks and the need for expensive pesticides or treatments.
You should nominate an IPM officer to:
- ensure procedures are followed
- train all relevant staff
- coordinate between areas (e.g. facilities management, WHS staff)
- act as a main point of contact.
Inspections, reporting and recording
Monitor records and the facility closely for any signs of pests, dead or alive. You can do this by using traps, regular inspections, and getting staff to report sightings of pests.
Blunder traps have a sticky base to trap the insect as they walk across it and should be placed in areas where pests are likely to be found (e.g. along skirting boards, behind cupboards, beside entrances and fire escapes). Where species have been positively identified and the infestation is significant, pheromones designed to attract specific insects can be used with blunder traps.
Baits result in the pest dying somewhere away from the bait station. This does not allow you to determine the type, location and number of pests. It can also result in staining and carcasses throughout your records. Some baits may attract other pests (e.g. rodent baits attract carpet beetle).
Regular inspections and sighting reports
Your IPM officer should regularly inspect your facility to ensure there are no other signs of pest infestations.
Staff can assist by reporting sightings of insects and vermin in or near areas where the records are kept, as well as in the actual records themselves.
Your IPM officer should log evidence and reports of pest and vermin activity, including:
- the date of sighting/capture
- what type of pest
- their number
- danger to staff or records
- what action was taken.
You can use the free Zak Database ZPEST to enter this information and produce graphical reports. These may help you determine if an occurrence is linked to the time of the year, or a particular part of the building or work activity.
Incoming stationery and packaging materials
Inspect all incoming materials and avoid stock-piling used packaging materials. Packaging material is both a food source and a prime location for 'free-loading' insects from elsewhere.
Incoming records/collection items
Inspect incoming and returning records before they are filed or stored. Report pest sightings to your IPM officer and have them logged.
A regular building maintenance program is critical.
Sealing cracks and weather proofing doors and windows will help stop insects getting in and moving around.
Routine and reactive maintenance for water leaks and drips, and environmental control systems should also be done.
A regular cleaning program is essential. Undisturbed dust and debris provides a food source, entices insects to stay and provides an ideal hiding place.
Cleaning staff should also be aware of pests, and how to report sightings and suspected pest activity.
Restrict the storage and consumption of food and drinks (other than water) to designated eating areas and use appropriate bins for food waste and wrappings.
Ensure that only sealed bottles of water are permitted in areas where records are stored or used. Bins should be lined, rubbish removed each day and spills attended to immediately.
Indoor plants, dried flower arrangements, wheat bags and other potential food sources should also be avoided.
If pests are found, follow these steps.
- Collect the pest in whatever sealable container you have.
- Bring the pest to your IPM officer (if you have one) for identification, logging, inspection of the area and possible further action to determine if it is an isolated incident or an infestation.
- When identifying pests, consider these questions:
- Are they usually found indoors? If so, where are they concentrated?
- Are they usually found outdoors? If so, how did they get in?
- How do they place the records at risk?
- What type of materials or places are they likely to go? Where else should be checked?
- Should the area be cleaned and all nearby records inspected?
- In what life cycle is the pest? How long have they been active?
- What are the chances of cross-contamination?
- Monitor the environment to determine if temperature and humidity are aiding the infestation.
- Isolate and quarantine affected materials to contain the infestation.
- If you have an IPM strategy in place, the IPM officer:
- records the incident in the log book or database–this is useful for determining patterns
- in consultation, determines the best response and follow up
- documents the remedial actions taken
- follows up by monitoring.
If records are infested and cleaning each individual record is not an option, then 'passive' non-chemical treatments should be used (usually freezing). Chemical treatments can be used as a last resort.
For large quantities of records, freezing is the preferred option. Records are double-wrapped air-tight in plastic to avoid condensation damage, then palletised and frozen. Freezing temperatures must be below -18°C for a minimum of 48 hours. The records are then slowly thawed to room temperature without opening. Repeat the process to ensure effectiveness.
Chemical treatment (e.g. pesticides) can be used as a last resort. This may not be effective on all life stages and repeat treatments may be required.
Speak to your pest control provider and keep a copy of Safety Data Sheet for all pesticides used.
Resources and tools
Resources and tools for records management have been developed to help you implement best practice records management in your agency.