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Bed bugs in the office: should HR be worried?

There has been a a 65% increase in infestations between 2022 and 2023, according to Rentokil -

As fears heighten that Paris’ bedbug problem is spreading to London, employers can take precautions to make sure offices do not become a breeding ground for the critters.

Viral videos of bed bugs in Parisian hotels, restaurants and the Métro have been circulating on social media, with alarming reports of a mass infestation. 

Following a video of an insect that looked like a bed bug on the London tube, mayor Sadiq Khan has said that bed bugs in London are “a source of real concern”. 

This is not just social media scaremongering. In August, pest control company Rentokil warned of a 65% increase in infestations between 2022 and 2023.

Read more: Case study: Rentokil

Office infestations are possible, but thankfully low-risk, according to John Horsley, technical officer at British Pest Control Association (BPCA).

He told HR magazine: “It’s very rare to find bed bugs in offices; they’re most active at night, while we’re sleeping, which is when they feed. Going to work a nine-to-five doesn’t tend to fit into their routine.”

Any infestations that do occur are likely to come from employees experiencing problems at home, adjacent property or secondhand furniture.

Horsley added: “Bed bugs are travelling pests and love to migrate. The most likely place they’ll come from is an employee accidentally bringing one from their home. They can latch onto items such as clothing and will be transported that way.

“They can also travel between rooms, so if you’re not in a standalone building but a complex, and a neighbouring property has an infestation, they may spread to your offices that way.

“If you’re refurbishing your office but you’re on a budget, secondhand furniture can be a common way for bed bugs to spread. Bed bugs have even been known to infest electronics, like laptops. But they’re more likely to infest electronics close to your bed, like an alarm clock.”

BPCA guidelines say common signs of a bed bug infestation are:

  • Small reddish-brown clusters or dark faecal spots (about 1mm wide) that look like an ink dot
  • Small blood smears on the bed linen or headboard
  • Bed bug moult skins, pale-white eggs, empty eggshells are quite small but still visible to the human eye
  • Seeing the small brown insects themselves

Horsley said that bed bugs can be hard to avoid, but there are a few things you can do to try and reduce the likelihood of taking them home with you.

He said: “Make sure that your staff know the signs of an infestation, as they are the most likely source of an outbreak in your office. If they’re travelling and staying in a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast, they should double check the mattress and other soft furnishings for signs of bed bugs, especially before putting luggage on the bed or chairs.

“Likewise, if you’re buying secondhand furniture for the office, check for signs before taking it into the building.”

If someone in your office believes they are being bitten while at work, there may often be another explanation, Horsley added. 

"Reactions to bites are often delayed, so that bite you think you’re getting at work could be from elsewhere.

"We once helped someone who thought they were being bitten at the office, but it turned out to be fleas at the stables where she kept her horses and visited every morning. Her reaction was happening hours later, and so it had been assumed the bites were from pests in the office, which wasn’t the case.”

If bed bugs are found at an office, Horsely recommends calling professional pest control immediately, as DIY attempts will likely fail.

He said: “If you don’t have a contractor, you need to get in touch with a local pest management company that treats bed bugs, preferably a member of the BPCA.

“Don’t try to treat them yourself. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to manage and DIY treatments often result in failure, causing infestations to spread further.”