Toxic mold can negatively impact health at home, at school, or at work. What happens when a worker is exposed to moldy lumber? Find out why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became involved in this case of toxic mold in the workplace.
Toxic Mold in the Workplace
Steve and his coworkers experienced scratchy throats, shortness of breath, and other symptoms related to toxic mold. Eventually, OSHA stepped in and resolved the situation.
I did not make the connection right away. I initially just assumed it was a cold, as others in my area of the store were also sick. After waiting on a customer in the lumber aisle, I noticed a smell coming from a unit of pressure-treated deck boards. I then noticed black mold on most of the boards.
I became suspicious because I suffered from mold-related symptoms in a house I once owned that had mold in the basement. I walked through the lumber department and found additional boards and plywood with black mold. I talked to a lumber associate regarding the moldy lumber.
My associate told me it had been inside the building for a couple of weeks, which was right around the time most of us started feeling ill. He had brought it to the attention of the store manager since he was also sensitive to mold. The store manager pushed it off onto the lumber department manager. Nothing was done.
I brought the concern regarding the mold as well as the air handler unit directly above my desk to the store manager. He said the units were set up for “regular” service. I asked the store maintenance person what he knew about the cleaning of the air units. He told me he didn’t think the filters were changed at the last servicing.
An associate from the opposite side of the building walked by our end of the store and said there was a “smell of dirt” there. As I learned, mold has a “distinct” smell.
I took pictures of all the moldy boards on the store shelf for sale. I even took my girlfriend into the store one evening. She noticed a burning in her throat after just a couple minutes. She manages a rental property. She recognized the odor.
After suffering for the entire month of October with no resolution from the store management, I filed a complaint with OSHA. They sent my employer a letter regarding the complaint. My name was not mentioned. The organization was given a set time to resolve the issues stated. One week after the complaint, all the visibly moldy wood was taken out of the building. Every air handler unit was cleaned and serviced.
(As a footnote . . . the maintenance person told me he looked at the filter from above my desk; it was “dirt brown.”)
Every one of us noticed relief within a couple days of resolving the concerns.
I no longer work there. I resigned my position at the end of 2015, after seven years. I lost my motivation and loyalty after management showed their disregard for the well-being of their associates.
That disregard is unacceptable to me. Employees deserve a safe environment to work in. Their health should not be compromised.
OSHA offers a helpful bulletin on the subject of mold in the workplace, noting that there are currently no federal standards for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores. Yet the bulletin makes it clear that mold can be a health hazard.
Indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Problems may arise when mold starts eating away at materials, affecting the look, smell, and possibly, with respect to wood-framed buildings, affecting the structural integrity of the buildings.
Molds can grow on virtually any substance, as long as moisture or water, oxygen, and an organic source are present. Molds reproduce by creating tiny spores (viable seeds) that usually cannot be seen without magnification. Mold spores continually float through the indoor and outdoor air.
OSHA even discourages the use of chlorine bleach as a “routine practice during mold remediation.” (See OSHA’s A Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace.)
Would you like to learn more about toxic mold and its health implications? See A Beginner’s Guide to Toxic Mold.