How Best to Protect Your Workers and Customers from Hidden Dangers
Not Everything Hidden is a Treasure
There are concealed dangers that may be surrounding you every day at work. And, if you’re a business owner, you need to pay especially close attention to two hazards that could put your employees and customers in harm’s way: mold and mercury.
Mold is not only the fungus that grows on the food you left in the fridge for too long; it can grow in any natural environment that has nutrients and moisture. Imagine an office with carpeted floors, striped wallpaper, ceiling tiles and a wooden desk with papers stacked on it. Mold can grow on, under or behind every single one of those surfaces if moisture is present.
“Mold certainly is everywhere; we do have it here in Florida with our warm, humid and sometimes rainy climate — crucial elements for the growth of mold,” said Alex Mahon, environmental manager at the Florida Department of Health. But don’t let the facts scare you. There are ways to uncover hidden mold and clean your office to guarantee the safety of everyone inside.
The top three common causes of mold growth in businesses involve control issues with the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, the level of the building being even with the dirt and grass outside, and roof leaks that cause storm water to leak in. Steve Irving, a licensed mold remediation contractor from ServPro Tallahassee, says that, “A lack of climate control, such as turning the A/C off or having the system fail for multiple days, has been a common cause of mold growth this year; we saw more cases this year than in the last three years combined.”
If you think you may have mold growing in your building, you can do a self-examination by checking for moisture stains, a pipe or roof leak, or discoloration in the floor or wallpaper. It must be determined if the mold has affected a small enough area that it can be removed by scrubbing it off with mold detergent, or if a mold assessor needs to be called for a second opinion.
“I went to a law office that was in a duplex-type business complex, and the elevation outside was too high; (the mold) worked its way inside through the brick. The lawyers noticed that the wood floors were popping up, and when you got down close you could smell it,” said John Hassler, a licensed mold assessor from Indoor Environmental Management. “Employees hadn’t complained; they preemptively called to have me come look at it. You have to keep an eye out. If you walk outside and the ground is eye level with the base of the building, you’ll get water in the building from rising storm water.”
It’s important to take action immediately after a mold discovery to avoid health problems that can include allergic reactions, nasal or sinus irritation, infection, rashes or toxic effects. However, Irving insists that, “It’s best when mold is discovered that it not be disturbed by someone without the proper equipment and training. Cross contamination can be a serious problem.”
While mercury cannot be found in as many places as mold, it can still be very dangerous for your employees and customers. The most common places mercury can be found are in fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, thermometers and thermostats. Because of its detrimental health effects and legal mandates, manufacturers have decreased the amount of mercury in fluorescent bulbs since the 1980s. But while mercury content has decreased dramatically and new energy-efficient LED (light emitting diode) technology is becoming more prevalent, fluorescent lighting is still widely used today.
The real danger is mercury’s invisibility factor; mercury is often thought of as an odorless, shiny, silver-white liquid, but it can also be an odorless, colorless gas.
Unfortunately, Florida’s heat can add to business owners’ concern about the safety of their workers. In temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the amount of liquid mercury in the air increases. If a fluorescent light bulb breaks, it’s very important that the liquid mercury is not vacuumed. If it is vacuumed, it turns into a vapor, a more dangerous form that can be inhaled and damage the nervous system. It needs to be determined whether the mercury spill is considered a large or small spill. A good rule of thumb: If more than one thermometer spills or leaks, it is a large spill and business owners should contact the local county health department to find the nearest hazardous waste disposal.
At a dentist’s office, mercury can be found in more than just light bulbs and temperature controls, which makes those in the dental profession more susceptible to mercury poisonings. Dentists use amalgam in dental fillings, a substance which is about half liquid mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled dental amalgams safe for use on adults and children ages six and up, but women who are pregnant or nursing should keep away. Any time amalgam is used, it’s extremely important for a mask to be worn to guard the lungs from inhaling mercury dust generated from the high speed drilling of fillings.
The easiest way to keep employees and customers safe from mercury poisoning in your office building is to replace all fluorescent light bulbs with LED (light emitting diode) light bulbs, and switch all thermometers and thermostats to newer electric versions.
It’s natural to feel worried about the possibility of hidden dangers in your business. Even though exposure to mercury and mold can be dangerous, there are many ways to avoid these hazards to workers and customers. Check out the following tips to make sure that you and your employees are educated about mold, mercury and what to do when either is found.
- The local county health department can help you identify mold and advise you on clean-up methods.
- The best way to regulate mold growth is by controlling indoor moisture.
- Once a leak occurs, fix the source of the water problem immediately to avoid mold growth. Any wet materials should be cleaned and/or dried within 24-48 hours.
- Don’t install carpet in areas where there is high moisture, such as near water fountains or sinks.
- If your business has gutters, be sure they are cleaned and repaired regularly.
- Scrub mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent and dry the surface completely. Absorbent materials, such as ceiling tiles, may need to be replaced instead of cleaned.
- A small mold clean-up, a moldy area less than 10 square feet, does not require professional service; however, a large mold clean-up, any area larger than 10 square feet, should be examined by a professional or contact the local health department.
- Cosmetic damages may occur during any mold removal.
- Discard products that contain mercury and replace with versions without mercury, for example, thermometers with alcohol instead of mercury or electric thermometers and LED light bulbs instead of fluorescent.
- Carefully store any items containing mercury to prevent breakage.
- Dispose of materials containing mercury carefully, see if there is a place to discard hazardous waste locally or consult your local county health department. Large mercury spills require professional assistance.
- Do not vacuum spilled mercury, it will turn into a vapor and inhaling liquid mercury is most dangerous.
- Proper breathing masks at dentist offices should always be worn when amalgam fillings are being used.