Mold needs moisture, oxygen and an organic food source to grow and is capable of colonizing almost any surface. There are molds that grow on wood, paper, carpet, insulation and dust that gathers in moist areas. Mold growth comes in various colors and is often known as mildew.
Molds alter the look and smell of materials they grow on and can weaken wood framed buildings. Exposure to mold spores can cause allergic reactions and influence health. Allergic responses include a runny nose, red eyes, and asthma attacks.
Local and state sanitation laws prohibit mold growth in most places of business, and while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have a standard for acceptable levels of mold or mold spores, the General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free of hazards.
Mold spores are usually not a problem unless they find a damp habitation and start to grow. Thus, limiting excessive water at the workplace is the best way to limit mold growth. Find and repair plumbing and structural leaks quickly and keep up on HVAC system maintenance to make sure they are capable of sustaining low humidity levels.
Be aware of tightly sealed buildings that permit vapor buildup, roofs that leak, and gutters that do not direct water away from a building. Vent moisture-generating devices like dryers to the outside, and make sure areas like kitchens and bathrooms are adequately aerated.
Use insulation to raise the surface temperature to prevent moisture from condensing. Improving the air circulation in an area will also prohibit this wetness, discouraging the mold growth.
Maintain indoor relative humidity well below 70%. You can do this by increasing ventilation if it is cool and dry outside and installing dehumidifiers.
HVAC systems reduce humidity, and increase airflow and should be maintained by changing the filter and keeping drip pans clean and flowing.
Along with visible mold growth, water damage is a sign of moisture problems. Other alarms include when regular maintenance has stopped or changed, or if the business has been remodeled. Also pay attention to reports about musty or moldy odors or increased allergies.
Try to clean up water damage right away. If your business has been flooded, clean the affected area, and dry or remove water-damaged materials within the first two days.
If you do spot mold, it and any affected material needs to be removed, and the problem that caused too much moisture needs to be fixed.
Simply scrubbing with water and cleaner will remove mold from most nonporous surfaces. Follow cleaning instructions and remember to dry the area soon after cleaning. Clean areas that are more troublesome with a solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water instead of soap.
Bleach is a biocide and will kill the mold, but using a biocide alone will not be enough to prevent mold from coming back, and it will not prevent people from having allergic reactions to dead mold and mold spores. There is no advantage to using a disinfectant like bleach unless you fix the underlying problem because there will be more spores floating in the air to grow again.
Put all contaminated matter in sealed bags or containers. Cover large items with sheeting and duct tape before removing.
Use wet vacuums only to remove excess water, but remember to clean and dry it and all attachments afterwards. HEPA-filtered vacuums can be used to pick up the dust that harbors mold spores after the area has been cleaned and dried.
When to call the professionals
OSHA has established guidelines on when remediation efforts can be done by the business and when to bring in professionals based on the skill of the people involved and the area affected. In all cases remediation should be done during off hours without regular workers nearby.
For 10 square feet or less, OSHA recommends misting surfaces to suppress dust, but for more than 10 square feet, it also recommends covering the surrounding work area with a plastic sheet to prevent contamination.
For isolated areas of 30 square feet or less like ceiling tiles, small areas on walls and individual wallboard tiles, regular maintenance personnel can perform remediation. However, they should be trained on clean-up methods and potential hazards, and must have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes gloves and eye protection and an N-95 disposable respirator.
Larger areas should at least involve the consultation of industrial hygienists. Extensive contamination of greater than 100 square feet may require air locks, full-face respirators with HEPA cartridges and disposable protective clothing.
Jay Acker leads the editorial team at safetyservicescompany.com. The company is one of the leading providers of third party authorization services for prequalifiers like ISNetworld® along with a complete set of safety training materials.