While OSHA does not have specific laws that apply to mold in healthcare environments, they do have guidance on what is expected in these settings as does the CDC. A healthcare facility can be cited under the General Duty Clause that states that employers are required to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Mold is a recognized health hazard and practices across the country are frequently contacted by OSHA for reported mold problems.
Mold is very common throughout the United States, especially in the southern half of the country. Mold proliferates anywhere there is moisture and humidity. In buildings, mold will grow in places with excess moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or where there has been flooding or abnormal condensation from air conditioning. Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products along with dust and paints.
Detecting mold in a small infestation may require a professional to test the air quality. However, when mold infestations are large, they can usually be seen or smelled.
Exposure to mold may cause a variety of health effects, or none. Indoor exposure to mold can cause upper respiratory tract symptoms, asthma symptoms in people with asthma, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. A link to other adverse health effects has not been scientifically proven. Mold growth, which often looks like spots, can be many different colors, and can smell musty. Color is not an indication of how dangerous a mold may be. Any mold should be removed and the moisture source that helped it grow should be removed.
Cleanup means more than just treating the visible mold; you must eliminate the source and cause. The necessary action may require experts in correcting moisture problems. Replacement of carpet, ceiling tiles or other materials contaminated with mold may be necessary. Mold growing in homes and buildings indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem to address.
- Remove moldy items. Once mold starts to grow in carpet, insulation, ceiling tiles, drywall, or wallboard, the only way to deal with the problem is by removal and replacement.
- It is important to properly clean and dry the area as you can still have an allergic reaction to parts of the dead mold and mold contamination may recur if there is still a source of moisture.
- Scrub cleanable surfaces (such as wood, tile, stone) with soapy water and a bristle brush. Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, and sinks) with water and dish detergent. Dry surfaces quickly and thoroughly after cleaning. If you have a fan, air conditioner or dehumidifier that was not affected use it to help the surfaces dry after you finish cleaning.
- Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup (8 ounces) of bleach in 1 gallon of water to kill mold on surfaces. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners.
- If you have an extensive amount of mold and you do not think you can manage the cleanup on your own, you may want to contact a professional who has experience in cleaning mold in buildings and homes.
If you are unsure if you have a mold problem, you can contact a professional to test the air. Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold. Regardless of the type, if you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive and standards for judging what an acceptable quantity have not been established.
What is the very best way to deal with indoor mold: Prevent it.
- Inspect for evidence of water damage and visible mold as part of routine maintenance;
- Control humidity levels to between 30% to 50%.
- Promptly fix leaks.
- Thoroughly clean and dry after flooding or leaking.
- Ventilate bathrooms, laundry, and cooking areas.
For more details on mold and the above information, search “mold” on the OSHA.gov or CDC websites. OSHA.gov also includes information on choosing professionals to help with the testing and clean-up phases.