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Mould in the workplace – how to combat health risks

With the Bureau of Meteorology tipping another wetter than usual spring and summer—and as humidity levels rise statewide, workplaces are reminded to guard against harmful mould build-up.

People with normal immune systems are unlikely to be affected by mould. However, for those with an allergy to mould, asthma or lung disease, the elderly, or those with chronic diseases like diabetes, or with low immunity, mould exposure may cause health problems. Symptoms include respiratory infections, irritation to the nose, eyes and throat, skin rashes and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Mould sometimes is detected by a musty, unpleasant odour particularly when it has contaminated wall cavities, ceiling spaces or is under carpets or floor coverings. Any building materials such as plasterboard or carpets that becomes wet due to leaks or flooding will eventually deteriorate if not dried out quickly.

If porous materials cannot be completely dried out within 48 hours, the materials may need to be replaced to prevent mould and bacteria growing. If you suspect mould contamination but cannot source the problem or if you have taken measures to prevent mould from growing and still have problems, you can employ a professional such as an occupational hygienist or environmental hygiene specialist.

If mould keeps returning despite repeated cleaning, seek professional advice to identify if there are any other underlying water or excess moisture problems that are causing the mould to return. If water or excess moisture is found, the issues need to be fixed or the problem will return.

Controlling mould:

  • keep mould-susceptible building materials dry during construction and ensure adequate drainage around buildings
  • regularly inspect and maintain buildings and fixtures and undertake repairs promptly
  • maintain heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and make sure these are set to the environmental conditions
  • manage water vapour and condensation, especially in high water vapour areas such as bathrooms and showers
  • clean up wet areas and water damage promptly (within 24-48 hours)
  • keep windows and doors open and use fans to dry out indoor areas to minimise mould growth.

Cleaning mould from surfaces:

Using a dry brush to remove mould is not recommended as this could see mould spread to other areas. Thoroughly clean contaminated hard surfaces and materials using water and detergent (soapy water) or a vinegar solution and dry completely. Protect yourself from mould spores by wearing a P2 respirator, gloves and safety glasses. Clean all tools and equipment after use. On completion, do a final clean-up to remove any dust that may have settled and remember to wash your hands with soap and running water before eating, drinking and smoking, after contact with mould, and following removal of PPE.

More information

Read more in the WA Department of Health’s Guidelines for Managing Mould and Dampness Related Public Health Risks in Buildings (PDF), Queensland Health's Dealing with mould after a storm, flood or cyclone (PDF) and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland's Managing Mould.