Mould is a type of fungi that comprise a wide range of genera and species that can be virtually found everywhere at any time, both outdoors and indoors. Certain mould genera occur indoors at amplified levels due to excessive dampness in building materials and/or elevated relative humidity levels in the air within the building (home or workplace). There are more than a thousand species of mould, and most of the species found indoors originate from outdoor sources. Mould is most likely to multiply when there is a presence of water damage, prolonged high humidity (>60%) or dampness.
Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects. According to NSW Department of Health, mould produces tiny particles called spores in their reproduction, spores are carried in the air and may cause health problems if inhaled by people who are sensitive or allergic to them. These include a running or blocked nose, irritation of the eyes and skin and sometimes wheezing. Occasionally, people may have more severe reactions. Very rarely, people may develop a mould infection, usually in the lungs. It is important to note that most people will not experience any health problems from coming in contact with mould. However, some people with genetic pre-disposition are more sensitive to mould. For people with asthma, inhaling mould spores may cause an asthma attack. Occupational hygienists mould specialists advise that mould produces toxic agents known as mycotoxins which negatively affect the health of humans and is more likely to adversely affect people with allergies, asthma, sinusitisor other respiratory conditions. It may also affect individuals with a weakened immune system. It can be tricky talking to your employer or manager about your suspicions of the presence of mould in your work surroundings. Companies are now becoming very conscious of the repercussions of the discovery of mould in the workplace. This can be a serious issue if an employee is suffering from potential exposure to mould in the workplace as there will be significant costs to both the employee and the employer. Therefore, it is better to investigate any mould problem in the workplace. It is always best to get the professional advice of a certified occupational hygienist on the problem who can offer your company advice on how to identify and assess the mould problem, have an adequate management strategy, and maintain the workplace as required by the work health and safety legislation.
Signs that indicate the presence of mould in your workplace
1. Musty Smell: usually the first indicator of the presence of mould in your workplace is a musty smell that may permeate your surroundings. If the odour persists, then it is best not to ignore it. Even though the mould may not be visible, the smell is a definite indicator that mould exists in your surroundings. You should perform a thorough inspection of your surrounding area, especially places that are susceptible to high moisture levels in the air. For instance, the restrooms, the kitchen or cafeteria area, or the locations which were recently subject to water leak events including accessible and concealed locations.
2. Visible Evidence of Mould Growth: If you see the walls discoloured around your workplace, then it is an indicator of the presence of mould. This may manifest in what appears to be the spreading of dampness across your walls. The more obvious proof is the spreading of a dark-coloured stain in the form of spots or patches. Mould is usually blackish, greenish or greyish in colour and appears to be a fuzz-like growth. What should be noted is that, in some cases, mould growth can be present at concealed locations (eg. wall cavity, ceiling space). If you suspect such condition may exist, it is a best practice to engage a competent occupational hygienist to perform a thorough inspection and evaluation of the mould contamination
3. Proof of Water Damage: if you see wet patches spreading across the walls, then there may be mould present in your surrounding work area. Water stains on ceilings, floors or walls may suggest the problem of a water leak. When water leaks have not been taken care of or fixed for a prolonged period of time, it can induce the growth and spread of mould. Excessive dampness due to a water leak can also be seen in the form of peeling or cracking paint and wallpaper.
4. Condensation: if you spot condensation on windows, it may suggest increased levels of humidity or dampness in the air, which could lead to the growth of mould. Condensation causes an increase of moisture on surfaces like windows or metal pipes, which in turn runs or drips onto surfaces that support mould growth. High humidity levels over a long period of time can create a conducive environment for the growth of mould on the walls.
(An example of mould growth on the ceiling panels caused by condensation water)
5. Allergies and other Health Symptoms: this is the sign that occupational hygienists mould are most concerned about. The basic symptoms of allergies rising from the presence of mould are: sneezing, coughing, congestion, watery or itchy eyes, and postnasal drip. Very often these symptoms are mistaken for seasonal allergies or other illnesses. However, if these persist for long periods of time, especially when you are in your workplace, then chances are that you are experiencing an allergic reaction to the presence of mould in the workplace that do not occur elsewhere. Mould could also cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which manifests through shortness of breath, fever, chills, blood-tinged sputum or muscular pain.
Therefore, if you suspect the presence of mould in your workplace, through any of these signs, it is always wise to have a talk with management as quickly as possible to ensure that required control measures are implemented before more people are affected by mould.
The author works as an occupational hygienist in Sydney, and has served in this capacity for more than 15 years. His aim is to advice companies and places of business on the best ways to maintain high standards of health, safety so that people are able to enjoy working in their workplace premises.
Keywords: Occupational hygienists mould, certified occupational hygienist, occupational hygienist in Sydney
By: Ibrahim Ech
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