Safety and OSHA News

Itchy eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat at work? It’s probably NOT mold

When it comes to indoor air quality, mold gets all the attention. But according to an occupational hygienist with Connecticut OSHA, when he investigates potential mold complaints, it’s usually not the problem. Instead, the problem is …

dust. The same type of dust that can build up in your home.

Brian Sauvageau with CONN OSHA told that in the past 14 months, he’s investigated 20 complaints filed by people who thought mold was contaminating the air in their workplace.

He collected hundreds of air samples in the course of investigating the 20 complaints.

Only one had mold levels that were significant.

Instead, Sauvageau usually found dust. In some cases, it’s years of accumulation.

This makes sense. It explains why some people complain of eye, ear, nose and throat symptoms, and other people are perfectly fine.

People who are allergic to the mites, pollen and spores found in common dust are the affected ones. In some cases, it can even cause headaches. If you don’t have one of those allergies, you can breathe the same air and feel fine.

It also logically explains why people get up feeling good in the morning, feel worse at work and then feel better again when they go home.

Sauvageau says the following conditions lead to dust build-up that can affect people who are allergic:

  • congested offices and desks loaded with clutter
  • supplies piled in work areas instead of being placed in storage
  • heating and air conditioning equipment that hasn’t been maintained and cleaned
  • walls and floors behind heating units and desks are filthy
  • furniture obstructing ventilation
  • people tell cleaning crews not to disturb anything on their desks, which makes proper cleaning difficult, and
  • work spaces that weren’t designed for their current use. Example: a factory turned into office space.

What’s the return on investment for addressing these problems? You get better attendance, productivity and morale. CONN OSHA says some of the people who called with mold complaints (and it turned out to be dust) were facing discipline for missing work too often.

But occupational hygienists say employees have a part to play in this, too. Workers need to be vigilant about the cleanliness of their own work spaces and make sure they don’t decrease air quality for their co-workers by, for example, moving furniture so it blocks a vent.

Have you ever had to address mold or dust complaints in your workplace? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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