Mold in the workplace
Toxic Mold: What Every Employer Should Know
Mold is a favored word among lawyers and a feared word among building owners, employers and landlords.
Lawsuits arising out of mold and claiming "sick building syndrome" are common. Multi-million dollar verdicts are not unheard of. Mold, in the words of some, is becoming "the next asbestos."
An $8 billion class-action lawsuit was brought by 300 tenants in a large apartment building in New York. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was sued by employees claiming they became ill because of mold exposure while working at EPA headquarters. Even Hollywood is involved: Ed McMahon sued his insurer for $20 million, claiming that toxic mold in his Beverly Hills home killed his dog.
Mold has even reached the attention of the U.S. Congress. Last year, Representative John Conyers of Detroit introduced a proposed bill, the "United States Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act of 2002," intended to set standards for indoor mold levels and to provide for related research.
Due to increased public awareness,
Almost mounting to hysteria, the number of legal claims is sure to mount. Workers who believe they are being exposed to mold may not want to work, their productivity may decline and they may file worker's compensation and disability claims. As an employer and/or a building owner, what can you do to try to limit your legal liability?
Look for Signs of Mold
With all of this attention, you may think that mold infestation is something new or uncommon. It is not. Mold is present in all buildings in some form and quantity. However, certain species of mold spores, in large enough concentrations, can be toxic. Although the health problems of mold exposure are in debate, there is literature tying some health effects to mold exposure. People with immune-compromised systems may experience permanent health effects.
Physical symptoms related to exposure to mold or sick building syndrome include eye, nose and throat irritation; respiratory complaints; skin irritation; nausea; dizziness and fatigue. Alert your human resources department and/or office manager to be aware of any such symptoms. If numerous employees complain, or if employees complain of moldy smells, put the building owner on notice and request an investigation. If you own the building, consider hiring an air quality investigator. Although these symptoms could result from other factors, it is important to address them.
Look For the Cause
Mold needs water or moisture and oxygen to grow. Water does not have to flow into the building for there to be enough moisture to promote the growth of mold. Although one-time leaks or burst water pipes may not be a problem if repaired, even a one-time leak, if not properly addressed, can cause unacceptable mold growth. There are a number of potential causes of moisture or water entry:
- Lack of building maintenance
- Poor building design or construction
- Using wet building materials
- Leaky pipes, windows, or doors
- Regular, or even one-time flooding
- Simple plumbing mistakes
- Excessive humidity and condensation
- Improper landscaping design or maintenance outside the building, causing water to flow toward the building
- Any other serious water related problem
- Address Moisture or Water Issues Promptly
If your building is experiencing water penetration, consistent moisture or leaks, demand that the landlord investigate the cause and promptly provide you with an action plan. If the landlord does not act, put it on notice that you intend to act and that you will hold it responsible for the costs.
Call SERVPRO of Cambridge/Belmont (617) 864-7378 to make an assessment and to remediate the mold.