The California Department of Industrial Relations issued a news release on Halloween reminding all employers that there is a deadly fungus among us. It sounds like a spooky tall tale, but it’s absolutely true. Coccidioidomycosis, commonly called Valley Fever or “desert rheumatism”, is a real disease caused by the inhalation of certain fungal spores found in the soil. Infection occurs when spores released from disturbed soil are inhaled into the lungs. According to the University of Tucson, “Once inside the lung, the spore transforms itself into a larger, multicellular structure called a spherule. The spherule continues to grow and will eventually burst, releasing endospores which develop into new spherules, and then repeats the cycle”.
How Serious Is this Mushroom Menace?
Having a lungful of mold can be very bad news. About four out of ten people exposed to this fungus get sick. Health problems from a fungal infection of the lungs can range from cold or flu symptoms to a pneumonia-like disease requiring medication and bed rest. In about 1 out of 200 cases, the fungus spreads through the bloodstream to the skin, bones, and cerebral membrane, causing severe illness or death.
Where Are California Workers in Danger?
Valley Fever is currently prevalent in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Luis, Obispo, and Tulare counties. It can also be found in other areas of the state. Construction activities, including the digging involved in laying or repairing pipes, can lead to exposure. June through November is the time when infection risks are greatest. Recently, there has been a 13% increase in reported work-related cases of Valley Fever. In response, Cal/OSHA issued an alert to employers reminding them about steps they can take to safeguard workers from infection.
What Can Employers Do to Decrease Risk?
There are a number of controls employers can put in place to limit exposure:
- Determine in advance if spores are likely to be present at a particular work site
- Adopt site plans that minimize soil disruption and maximize ground cover
- Keep workers away from outdoor dust
- If working around dust is unavoidable, supply workers with respirators that can filter out mold spores
How do you ensure your workplace safety practices keep up with emerging threats? Like mold spores, it’s the little things you overlook that can end up posing the biggest hazards. Call today to set up an expert consultation to review your policies and training.