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Keeping workers safe from mold

There are few places that mold won't eventually grow under the right circumstances. Many workplaces are unfortunately home to these conditions, making mold a serious threat for many employees. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, some of the workers with the greatest risk of mold exposure include farmers, dairy workers, loggers, bakers, mill workers, carpenters, greenhouse employees, winemakers, and furniture repair professionals.

Reactions to mold
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 50 million people in the United States are allergic to airborne particulates. Mold spores account for a lot of this irritation, so it is important for workers to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction to mold. They include:

• Sneezing
• Runny nose
• Eye irritation
• Coughing
• Congestion
• Worsening of asthma symptoms
• Dermatitis (skin rashes)

Employees who have these symptoms should inform a supervisor or manager. People who are particularly susceptible to mold include older people, those with existing respiratory illnesses, individuals with weakened immune systems, those with surgery in their recent history, and people taking steroids.

Finding mold
Identifying mold isn't very difficult. Most people will recognize it immediately as a woolly discoloration growing in a dark and moist area. Black patches on these surfaces are usually mildew, a very common type of mold.

Mold can also be located by its distinctive musty, earthy odor.

Reducing risks after water damage occurs
The best way to reduce mold-related risks after a spill or flood at a workplace is by preventing it from growing in the first place. When water is spilled or floods an area, employees should quickly remove it by repairing drainage infrastructure or using a wet-dry vacuum cleaner. This must be done within 24 to 48 hours, or before mold has a chance to begin growing. Once the bulk of the water has been removed, fans and other ventilation devices should be used to help with additional drying.

Wet surfaces that won't retain water should be cleaned thoroughly with water and detergent. Any porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours need to be thrown out immediately. A number of porous materials can't be cleaned and will become moldy once they've been immersed in water. These include:

• Carpeting and carpet padding
• Upholstery
• Wallpaper
• Drywall
• Floor and ceiling tiles
• Insulation
• Some clothing
• Leather
• Paper
• Wood

Using the right equipment
Areas that have been exposed to mold should be approached with caution, especially by employees who know or suspect that they have mold allergies. Disposable respirators will help protect workers' respiratory systems from mold spores.

Mold spores can also cause eye and skin irritation. Safety products such as goggles, gloves, and protective clothing are important to wear in places that have recently flooded. Provide these items to any workers who are at risk for mold exposure.

When cleaning up mold, many different detergents and cleansers can be used. While they are both effective on their own, bleach and ammonia should never be mixed. Together, they create a harmful, poisonous gas. Instruct workers to use dish detergent or other chemicals that have been approved for use.

Preventative measures
Taking steps to prevent excess moisture and reduce mold growth in your place of business may include:

• Keeping humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent
• Ensuring proper ventilation
• Prompt repair and cleaning after discovering a roof or window leak
• Adding mold inhibitors to paints before painting
• Using mold-killing products to clean bathrooms, entrances, and exits where moisture and water tend to accumulate
• Monitoring and maintaining entrance matting during rainy periods and winter months, making sure to keep the area as clean and dry as possible

With proper training, vigilant workers, and the right equipment, companies can minimize mold at their workplaces. Mold is best dealt with long before it takes root, so take extra care to prevent water, moisture, and flooding from wreaking havoc on your workplace.  

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