Mold in the workplace: What Missouri employees need to know

mold-on-the-steps-986716-m.jpgWhen most people hear about a workers' compensation claim, they often think of accidents resulting in physical injuries like broken bones, back or neck injuries, or permanent disability. However, a workers' comp claim can also be connected to an occupational disease, which is defined as "a condition or illness caused by occupational exposure in the workplace." According to the Missouri Department of Labor, occupational diseases recognized by Missouri law include injuries caused by repetitive motion, loss of hearing due to workplace noise, and radiation disability. They may also include respiratory diseases caused by repeated exposure to certain workplace contaminants, including mold.

Basic facts about mold in the workplace:

• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that mold is a type of fungi that can be found both outdoors and indoors throughout the year. There are thousands of different species of mold.

• Every species of mold shares a common attribute: it can grow with only a spore ("a viable seed"), a nutrient source, moisture, and a suitable temperature. It does not need sunlight, which is why mold is most common in dark, damp areas.

• Mold can create and release millions of spores that pose a threat to human health. It can also produce toxic agents called mycotoxins, which is also known to have adverse effects on the human body.

• Most mold found indoors comes from outdoor sources. However, mold commonly grows - and becomes a health threat - in indoor spaces where water damage, high humidity and/or dampness is present.

• Symptoms of mold exposure vary dramatically, depending on the person. OSHA officials say the people most at risk are children and the elderly, along with those who suffer from allergies, asthma, sinusitis, and other respiratory conditions. People who have weakened immune systems are also at high risk for mold-related illnesses.

How Missouri workers can protect themselves from mold-related illnesses:

• If you are concerned that you're developing health problems associated with mold exposure in your work environment, you should report those concerns to your supervisor as soon as possible. Employers are required by law to provide a safe, healthy working environment for their employees.

Officials at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) strongly advise that you seek immediate treatment from a medical professional, who can diagnose and evaluate your symptoms and determine whether you should be medically restricted from your work environment.