Expert Commentary

Seven Tips on Mold Management Programs

Concern over mold has resulted in a scurry to develop mold management programs that are often incomplete. Certain key areas should receive special attention: program objective, responsibility/accountability, response protocol, contract documents, subcontractor management, owner management, and administration.


Environmental
November 2003

With all the hype and craziness about "toxic" mold over the past few years, organizations have rushed (in many cases were forced) to address the problem by developing "mold management programs." (I'm using a general term here that truly addresses water intrusion, moisture, mold plans, etc.) Whether these programs were created to truly educate and manage the risk for the organization or, more frequently, to purchase insurance, many of them lack the essentials of a quality program. Over the years I have seen a variety of programs: from mold policy statements (literally, a one-paragraph statement on the organization's policy toward water and mold) to a 75-page document complete with site-specific mold programs and extensive checklists to track issues. I'm not saying either is best, but there should be more continuity in the industry if the industry is going to manage this problem.

Seven areas are outlined below that should always be considered when developing a mold management program. I have addressed these areas since I frequently find these are the sections that most programs lack. This does not mean that these are the only areas that need to be addressed, but special attention should be given to these areas.

1. Program Objective

All programs have a goal, an objective. They may include reducing the organization's exposure to liability, reducing injury on a job site, decreasing cost by managing some certain risk, creating a competitive advantage, and so forth. Mold programs must also have an objective—what are they trying to accomplish? The next question is why are you trying to accomplish this? This is important for the main reason of communicating this to the entire organization. It's important for executive management to create or understand an objective, but it's even more important for that objective to then be communicated to the people that can prevent extensive damage.

2. Responsibility/Accountability

Many plans being developed seldom assign responsibility to specific job positions. When you think about it, there should be someone with designated responsibilities in every sector of the organization. Executive management has a role to budget for cost to implement the program, to communicate the importance of such a program, etc. The safety director may be responsible for developing the program, training, disseminating the information throughout the organization, etc. The project director may be responsible for subcontractor and owner management, contract language, education, etc. Field personnel are responsible for incident reports, response protocol, prevention measures, etc. This can be completed for all positions in the process.

3. Response Protocol

Now that you found it, what are you going to do with it? Who do you contact—inside the organization and outside the organization (owner, certified mold remediation contractor, who else)? Based on current remediation "guidelines," there are situations that can be handled quite simply by field personnel. Others may need to subcontract with a qualified firm to do the more extensive work. What qualifies a subcontractor to perform mold abatement? The following should be identified before the issue arises.

4. Contract Documents

Similar to the way many organizations contractually transfer typical environmental risk, contractors must consider transferring the exposure from mold. This could be accomplished several different ways. The most obvious is through indemnities broad enough to include environmental issues. To further strengthen the contract, preexisting contamination clauses and change in condition clauses speaking specifically to environmental conditions should be considered. These clauses are not exactly the same as, but are similar to, some contract provisions in the American Institute of Architect (AIA) A201 contract document. Specifically, the preexisting contamination clause will clearly state who is responsible for existing environmental issues, including mold. If issues exist prior to work that were not a result of the contractor's work, it should be the owner's responsibility, regardless if the contractor exacerbated the situation.

5. Subcontractor Management

This could be split into trade subcontractors and mold abatement subcontractors. For the trade subcontractors, it's the typical stuff—indemnity language, insurance requirements (and don't think just because a subcontractor has contractor's pollution liability coverage, they have coverage for mold as well), etc. When it comes to the mold abatement, contractors, and construction firms need to consider qualifications of the firm. Just because a firm has provided asbestos abatement services or has airborne contamination experience does not make it qualified to perform mold abatement. When hiring a firm to address the problem, hire a firm that could address the total problem: water. That's what we've all been saying for the last 3 years. So why wouldn't you want a firm with structural expertise, geotechnical and foundation expertise, and regulatory expertise in addition to airborne contaminant expertise?

Furthermore, has the subcontractor been certified to perform mold remediation? This may not carry much weight but is worth requesting the information. There are several organizations that offer such programs. One is the certified mold remediator (CMR) designation from the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA). The CMR has educational and experience requirements and requires a 3-hour test to be passed prior to the designation. To add to such designations, the subcontractor should be asked what "guidelines" they follow. There are numerous guidelines offered by the EPA, NYCDOH, OSHA, and several other organizations. However, as of November 2003, a consortium of trade associations have banned together to develop what they refer to as remediation "standards." The document incorporates information that currently exists and is referred to as IICRC Standard for Professional Mold Remediation S520.

Lastly, when you are considering trade subcontractors, have you requested their mold program be included with the prequalifications list? It is important to do so.

6. Owner Management

Some of the comments or questions I typically get when I suggest that contractors make owners aware of the mold issues is why should I do that? Why should I create a problem? Why should I educate them on the issue so they can sue me if a problem arises? I usually respond with a question: Who would you rather have educate your client, you or an attorney? Why not be proactive, address and manage the issue, and possibly prevent a frivolous lawsuit? If you're going to be sued, wouldn't you rather show that you did what you could to address and manage the problem rather than ignoring the issue and coming across as if you may have been hiding something? I'll answer that—yes!

Every organization that develops such a program may want to think about including owners in the training process and maybe even distributing the program to them. If you think about it, this could not only prevent future liability but also become a competitive advantage. You have the ability to educate the owner on the issues, show them how you excel in this area compared to the competition, and have the client's best interest at hand. I'd rather approach it that way than have to respond to questions on mold posed by the client. Be proactive!

Lastly, documentation is typical when it comes to operation and maintenance of systems. Do all checklists address the issues with water and mold? If the importance of proper operation and maintenance are going to be signed off by the owner, why not have them sign off on the checklist that explains the issues all around "toxic" mold?

7. Administration

I refer to this section as administration, but it really is execution. Many times what separates the good plans from the poor ones (I don't care if we are talking mold or business plans) is not the content but the execution! Most plans are similar, but if you cannot communicate and execute the vision, it will fail. As we have heard many times from many motivational experts, the will to succeed must be great, but the will to prepare must be even greater! My message here is put it to use: communicate, train, and execute!

Conclusion

Once again, these are only some areas that need to be incorporated into an effective water intrusion or mold management program. If I were to choose the most important, it would have to be the last: administration. You could have the best looking program, but if all it does is look great on somebody's shelf, what good is it?


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

Like This Article?

IRMI Update

Dive into thought-provoking industry commentary every other week, including links to free articles from industry experts. Discover practical risk management tips, insight on important case law and be the first to receive important news regarding IRMI products and events.

Learn More