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The Risk Factor 4th Quarter 2004

Friday, October 15, 2004
The Risk Factor 4th Quarter 2004

Indoor Air Quality - It Pays to Be Proactive

Many organizations respond to indoor air quality (IAQ) issues only after they receive complaints, and sometimes not even then! Organizations using the “wait and see” approach often suffer considerable liabilities and losses, due to problems ranging from simple odor issues to building-related diseases to widespread mold problems. With colder weather upon us, companies and organizations would be wise to institute a proactive indoor air quality program.

The goal of a well-designed indoor air quality program is to identify the factors that cause or contribute to an acute or chronic degradation of a building’s indoor air quality, which in turn can negatively affect the occupants. While there are countless numbers and types of factors affecting indoor air quality, experience shows that typically these are

  • Building systems
  • Management/Administration
  • Occupants
  • Outside influences                 

Identifying the root causes of unacceptable IAQ is key to the prevention or elimination of sick-building syndrome and other building-related illnesses, which in turn reduces or eliminates the losses and liabilities associated with unacceptable indoor air quality.

Whether it is a school, office, healthcare, commercial, manufacturing, or research facility, liabilities from unacceptable IAQ can translate directly into financial losses. A successful and effective IAQ program will centralize the identified factors and provide a mechanism to control them.

The first step in developing a successful IAQ program is to understand the facility and who the responsible parties are, including employees and other firms that provide services such as HVAC maintenance, housekeeping, pest control etc. The next step is to understand the various building systems such as HVAC, plumbing, glazing, and electrical, and to conduct a detailed inventory of all equipment. Once these systems and their current levels of maintenance are fully understood, the task of detailed program and procedure development begins. This is the most important part of the program as most IAQ problems are directly related to building systems.

Preparation for emergencies, as well as planned and unplanned construction or renovation, are important because each has the potential to degrade air quality. For example, strong odors from some solvents can cause alarm among your employees. To minimize unnecessary concern, significant planning is needed before, during, and after a planned event.

Other components of an effective IAQ program include the development of performance criteria, response procedures, technology assessments, regulations and guidelines, policies and procedures, and benchmarking and auditing. Development and implementation of the program can take six to twelve months depending on the resources committed by the organization. For more information or to discuss implementing a proactive IAQ program for your organization, please contact Chris Schneider, CIH, President, at 610-524-5525 ext 14.

Managed Safety and Health Outsourcing

Occupational and environmental health and safety professionals are responsible for the recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors and stresses within the workplace that may cause injury, sickness, disability or death; impaired health or well-being; or significant discomfort and inefficiency among workers. As such, it is essential that the individuals tasked with these responsibilities have the support of upper management and the necessary resources and become fully qualified.

Qualifications should include not only education, but also broad-based experience in addressing environmental factors, interpersonal factors, and stresses, as well as the ability to credibly address technical questions and concerns from employees.

Experience is essential for a successful result. Typically, an inexperienced or unqualified person will not be able to identify the myriad of challenging problems that could affect the outcome of monitoring results, or provide practical recommendations for controlling and addressing health and safety issues.

1Source Safety and Health frequently provides clients with safety and health professionals on a short term, long-term, or part-time basis. Depending on the goals of the client and their available resources, 1Source Safety and Health has found that what may have started as a full-time managed outsource position, can sometimes be reduced to a part-time position due to the proactive approach of their program.

1Source Safety and Health offers clients added value by providing the following:

  1. No costs associated with training and retraining of in-house staff with regard to whom, what, how, when, and why to sample
  2. No need to qualify competency regarding professional standing
  3. High level of proficiency with equipment
  4. No management time requirements for clients
  5. Data collected, analyzed, and interpreted by a third party has a higher level of validity with unions, non-union employees, and regulatory agencies
  6. Availability of experts and equipment is guaranteed 24/7/365
  7. Team of nine CIHs, two CSPs, two CPEAs and one CPE, plus a staff of safety and health professionals, available to provide technical and situational knowledge base for all safety teams
  8. Ability to evaluate employee activities to develop sampling plans that provide meaningful data and save money
  9. No need to purchase, maintain, and calibrate equipment, or train staff in the appropriate use of equipment
  10. Peer review of data and collaboration with experienced consultants
  11. Discounts on chemical and microbiological sample analysis because 1Source Safety and Health is a major vendor to laboratories where samples are analyzed
  12. Ability to assess situations and confer with experts

For more information, or to discuss your specific needs regarding safety and health outsourcing at your company, please contact Colin J. Brigham, CIH, CSP, CPEA, CPE Vice President, at 610.524.5525 ext 24.

Litigation Support for Mold Cases

The mitigating and controllable factor of mold growth in structures and HVAC systems is moisture. Moisture can be in the form of liquid flow (e.g., leaking pipe, inadequate flashing or window details, or floods), condensation/high-humidity conditions (e.g., due to subcooling of room surfaces or excessive outdoor air humidity introduction), capillary action (e.g., moisture through block walls in a basement) or vapor transmission (e.g., through wall assemblies due to negative pressure of the building envelope).

The resulting mold growth can be obvious, such as in the case of dewpoint temperatures being reached on room surfaces due to sub-cooling causing visible mold growth in open-area surfaces. Mold growth can also be hidden, such as a slow leak of a pipe within a wall assembly or vapor transmission in a wall assembly being trapped and condensing behind vinyl wall covering due to building envelope negative pressure. In either case, mold growth will deteriorate building materials, cause wood decay, adversely affect HVAC systems, potentially expose building occupants, and ultimately increase your liability and risk.

The common causes of moisture incursion and ultimately mold growth include

  • Construction defects
  • Design defects
  • Building system operational parameters
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Lack of building protection during construction
  • Accidental water releases
  • Weather

Other causes of mold growth include improper or incomplete remediation, lack of quick response, and insufficient response to a water release.

Mold growth in structures can result in

  • Bodily injury claims
  • Designer errors and omissions claims
  • Property damage claims
  • Negligence claims
  • Business interruption and lost revenue
  • Workers’ compensation claims

As you can see, mold issues are multifaceted. As such, the evaluation team needs to be as equally multifaceted. Team members and their roles include

Industrial Hygienists – Perform moisture tests and sampling, assess exposure potential, gather environmental information for medical analysis, define extent of mold impacts, provide opinions on causation, remediation plans, scope, and damages apportionment opinions

Mechanical and Structural Engineers – Perform forensic engineering analysis of structure, HVAC air and water-side systems for moisture sources/causes, pathways, and driving forces, and provide damages apportionment opinions

Occupational Health Physician – Provide medical opinion on health symptoms as they relate to environmental conditions

Remediation Contractor – Develop cost estimates for remediation and damages

Mycologist/Microbiologist – Provide analysis of samples and opinions on the ecology of mold-forming organisms for causation analysis

1Source Safety and Health has provided litigation support for both plaintiff and prosecutors in mold cases ranging from insurance-related residential basement hot-water tank releases to multistory hotel construction defects cases.

Depending on the case, one or all members of the evaluation team may be needed. Please contact Harry M. Neill, CIH, Vice President of Indoor Air Quality and Industrial Hygiene, if you would like to discuss your particular case at 610.524.5525, ext 15 or email.



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