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Archive for May, 2014

Letters of Recommendation and Performance Reviews

I wrote my first letter of recommendation at the age of twenty-four. It was for a recent graduate of the painter apprenticeship program, run by the International Union (then Brotherhood) of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), headquartered in Washington, D. C.

The twenty year old, who worked on my commercial painting crew, was applying to Purdue University’s School of Engineering in West Lafayette, Indiana. He sought a recommendation from me, because he’d taken two required apprenticeship courses under me.

A few months later, my employer reminded me to prepare a written employee evaluation (performance review) for the same worker. And, I was reminded to give a copy of the document to the employee, after he read it and signed a form that he had done so. The painter, only four years younger than I, was scheduled to leave for Purdue’s main campus.

By the way, letters of recommendation were regularly issued by PDCA-member contractors for their employees. Written employee reviews of union/IUPAT members were not.

I remember the crumpled sheets of paper at my feet, as I tried to write each document. The person was counting on me to say something positive about his work, and him as a worker. He trusted me to present his background in a professional way, one that would benefit him – and his future.

Writing a recommendation or performance review for an employee is a big responsibility, when you think about it. One that, back then, my father encouraged me to do my best job at.

Both documents were well received. The young painter moved to college. Life happened. A few years later, I left Indiana after losing my father suddenly. From time to time, I wondered what had happened to that crew member, with sharp mathematical skills. But I never checked.

Fast forward. A level three connection, by the same name as that crew member, appeared recently on LinkedIn.com. It couldn’t be the same person, I thought. This man’s title was listed as “Principal Partner and CEO” of a major design-architectural-engineering firm, headquartered on the West coast.

I clicked on the profile. Full-access was restricted to premium business account holders. A list of over nine 1st, 2nd, and 3rd connections stood between us. I halted the linkage there. Something in my gut told me that guy – whether he was the IUPAT painter, or not – would not want to be trailed/traced in that way.

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line” approach sounded like the best approach. So, I wrote a brief letter to the man.

Less than a week later, I received a response.

 “Hello, Bob,

            Thanks for contacting me. It was great to hear from you. I’ve wondered what happened to you. Sorry to hear about your father. He was quite a guy.

            I should have contacted you years ago. You’ll never know the positive impact that your letter of recommendation and performance review (employee evaluation) had on my life. It helped to open doors that, otherwise, may have been inaccessible, or difficult to enter. It helped me to open doors for others.

            Please call me the first chance you get. I see (LinkedIn profile) that you’re seeking a new opportunity. . .”

During our first phone conversation, I learned about a few of those doors that had opened. I learned how “quality-of-life-changing” a 100-word letter of recommendation, or a 150-word performance review (employee evaluation) can be.

Also, it reminded me of something that my 92-year old grandfather once said. He’d read me a letter of reference, that he’d just written for one of his “grown-up” former parishioners.

“Over the years, I’ve written over a thousand of these letters. I’ve taken each one very seriously, and written each with great care. Each one was very important. To the person it was about.”

Interestingly, that is what the entire process is about. It’s about the person being recommended, or the person whose performance is being reviewed, or evaluated. I believe that it’s also about the person doing the recommending, or the reviewing/evaluating.

Their respective futures will forever be impacted by the relationship – the space in this universe – that they have shared in the past.

When I think about that, I’m inspired to do my best when recommending, referencing, and reviewing/evaluating others. I’m inspired to make a positive impact on their lives. Even if or when I have no way of knowing, in advance, what that impact will be.

——-

“We’re in this life together!” RDH

 

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Wallpaper and Hidden Black Mold Treatment

In 2013, I ran into a serious environmental problem on a hospitality property. Black mold lined the wallpaper and covered the drywall in a busy front office. An office whose primary occupant suffered from chronic asthma. The budget did not include the services of a certified mold mitigation and remediation specialist. So, the job came my way.  

What led to the initial investigation for black mold and mildew?

A musty odor filled the room, and filtered into the hallway. The air seemed stuffy. The occupant reported constant irritation, and severe difficulties with breathing, chest tightness, itching and burning eyes, fatigue, etc.

How was the black and green mold discovered?

I pulled back a corner of one panel of wallpaper on every wall in the room. Dense black mold covered the back of each panel. Similar black and slimy green mold and mildew covered over 80 percent of the drywall itself.

What needed to happen as soon as possible?

The wallpaper had to be removed in an environmentally-safe manner. The black mold on all surfaces needed to be stopped (mitigated) from growing further. Then, the spores had to be removed completely (remediated.

Prior to treatment, what was done?

1. All small items were removed from the room.                                                                                2. The office furniture and equipment were moved into the center of the room, and covered with plastic sheeting, then old cotton sheets.                                                                                            3. The floor was covered with 2-5 ply plastic sheeting, then more old cotton sheeting.

The main objectives were (1) to protect everything else in the room from additional exposure and damage, and (2) to prevent seepage of the chlorine bleach and water solution, also rinse water, onto the surfaces.

How did you protect yourself?

I “suited-up” before performing each step. The protective gear included the following: disposable hooded paper suit, shoe booties, and particle mask; disposable plastic gloves; also eye goggles, breathing respirator with an organic filter.

How was the contaminated wallpaper removed?

First, the infested area was confined from the other areas,  and from other persons in the office complex. Next, each sheet of wallpaper was pulled off, carefully, from the drywall. Then, each sheet was rolled up, and placed on the floor out of the way.

Key considerations included (a) the toxic conditions; (b) density of toxic black mold;(c) amount of moisture on the paper’s back and drywall surfaces; and (d) time, budget and exposure limits.

How was the infested and contaminated wallpaper disposed of?

The paper was wrapped into 3-4 roll bundles, using masking tape. Then, per supervisory instructions, the bundles were placed into large heavy-duty trash bags. And, they were placed in the commercial solid waste dumpster at the back of the property.

How was the black mold killed (mitigated)?

1. The management-approved solution of 3 parts chlorine bleach to 1 part clean warm water was mixed in a 2-gallon garden sprayer.                                                                                                   2. The chlorine bleach-water solution was sprayed lightly onto one small at a time. And, it was allowed to set 8 to 10 minutes.                                                                                                          3. To keep the job running smoothly, the solution was applied promptly to adjacent areas.             4. Steps 1 through 3 were repeated until all wall, ceiling, woodwork, door, and trim surfaces in the room had been treated.

How was the black mold removed (remediated) from the drywall panels and other areas?

1.  The black mold residue, that hadn’t evaporated, was wiped from the area, with a moist sponge. 2.  On many areas, the application of the chlorine bleach and water solution had to be repeated two to three times.                                                                                                                              3. The walls, ceiling, woodwork, door, and frame were washed thoroughly with clear, warm water, using a fresh sponge. This prevented re-infestation and re-contamination.                                       4. The drywall had to be inspected for left over wallpaper adhesive. Any remaining residue needed to be removed completely before proceeding.                                                                                    5. All furniture, equipment, fixtures, etc. were checked carefully for any sign of black mold and mildew. None was found.

How were used supplies, materials and tools disposed of?

The plastic sheeting, cotton sheeting, heavily-used sponges, cleaning rags, etc. were placed together in large, thick-ply plastic trash bags and tightly tied closed. The disposable hooded paper suits, shoe booties and masks, also plastic gloves were placed into a separate thick plastic trash bag. Then, per instruction, all bags were placed in the commercial dumpster at the back of the property.

How were salvageable supplies, tools and equipment cleaned and dried?

Salvageable items included buckets, lightly-used sponges, eye goggles, respirator, etc. All items were washed thoroughly with strong detergent and water. Then, they were rinsed at least twice with clean warm water. And, everything was air-dried, overnight (24 hours).

How were the drywall and other surfaces dried?

A large fan was placed in the room. The door closed.  And, the room was allowed to dry overnight (24 hours).

How were the drywall panels and other areas prepped for refinishing?

1. For prep sanding, I covered my mouth with a dust/particle mask. And, I wore eye goggles.        2. Products and materials used included sandpaper, joint compound, caulking, etc.                       3. Tools and equipment included paint rollers, covers, frames, roller pole, and roller screen; also, brushes, buckets, ladders, etc.                                                                                                          4. Before proceeding, the floor, and the grouping of office furniture, were covered with clean plastic dropcloths.                                                                                                                                         5. Then, the walls, woodwork, molding, and door were sanded. Cracks were caulked and filled. Drywall irregularities were patched. Some areas were re-sanded, as needed.          

Ordinarily, the removal of wallcovering is relatively easy and fast, as well as very safe. The removal of contaminated wallcovering from an environmentally-compromised area requires more time and care.

Special recommendations: Difficult-to-remove wallcovering requires special techniques and expertise. Depending on the complexity of the area’s layout and the quantity of infested wallcovering, calling a wallcovering removal specialist, with mold remediation experience, may be a wise and safer choice.

Special caution: At all times, the conditions in the area must be respected. And, the health and safety of any person that comes in contact with that area must be protected.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *                                                                                                                          For a technical explanation, read:  (your state) “Florida – Indoor Air,” Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov),  or call 1-404-562-9143                                

A Painter’s View, Part III: How to Control Black Mold and Mildew

1. BE ALERT to any changes in your environment – and how you respond to them. What: Decreased breathing capacity, poorer indoor air quality (IAQ), musty smell anywhere, slimy green surfaces, discolored fabrics, black areas in damp areas.

2. TAKE ACTION at the first sign of black or slimy green mold and mildew. Don’t wait for it to go away on its own. It won’t!

3. VENTILATE! Monitor repetitive mold growth and infestation areas a hygrometer.           How: Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners. Open windows and doors on the opposite or different walls of rooms, also between rooms. Create a cross-flow of air. Use exhaust fans to move moisture outside.                                                                                                                          Why: To reduce and keep moisture/humidity in the air and on surfaces below 60 percent. Increase circulation.

4. REGULARLY CLEAN drip pans in air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators.             Why: To prevent harmful fungi from developing and staying.

5. CHECK and repair all drain lines regularly.                                                                                Why: To ensure proper flow and prevent obstructions.

6. INSULATE  cold surfaces: exterior walls, floors, windows, top floor ceilings.                           Why: To reduce condensation.

7. PROMPTLY DRY all wet areas and items in hot and humid areas, within 24-48 hours of use. Examples: furniture, drapes, clothing, linens, carpet, tile.                                                      How: Hand wipe surfaces. Use a HEPA moisture-removal vacuum cleaner. Run electric fan or air conditioner.                                                                                                                                    Why: To prevent mold from growing.

8. PROMPTLY REMOVE damp items such as clothes, towels and linens from any room or area –including floor, hamper, laundry basket, dryer, etc.                                                                    Why: To minimize or remove black mold-prone items from atmosphere.

9. FIX interior and exterior leaks, cracks and seepage. Consult a licensed plumber or structural/ foundation engineer about your options.                                                                                      How: Check basins, bath tubs, shower enclosures, tiled areas. Remove old grout. Clean the area. Dry thoroughly. Re-grout/re-caulk each seam. Slope ground away from the base or foundation of building or structure. Plant simple landscaping. Consider waterproofing the foundation.             Why: To reduce or prevent the chance for standing water.

10. CHECK heating and cooling system (s) for properly sized and fitted hoses, ducts, etc. Ducts must be free of air leaks.                                                                                                               How: Replace damaged ducts with metal ones.                                                                           Why: To ensure that the system’s air flows correctly and removes humidity.

11. MOVE  furniture and other larger pieces away from the walls and corners. Create more open space between furniture pieces. Reduce the number of pieces in each room.                           Why: To increase “flowability” and “breathability” of the air in areas and rooms.

12. SHUT OFF appliances if moisture appears on interior surfaces such as windows.

13. CLEAR the dryer vent (s) of obstructions such as lint and tiny, torn paper. Clean thoroughly at least every six months.                                                                                                                 Why: To minimize or eliminate areas that invite black mold buildup.

14. USE area rugs versus wall-to-wall carpeting wherever possible.                                           Why: To reduce potential for moisture build-up and black mold formation on hidden, hard-to-access surfaces. 

15. OPEN a window, or run a fan – exhaust, counter, floor – when showering.                             Why: To allow damp surfaces and areas to dry completely.    

A Painter’s View of Mold and Mildew: Part II

In many parts of the Southeastern region of the U. S., the long high-temperature and high-humidity season brings much more than natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Opening in May, the five-to-six month season brings environmental conditions that make it ripe for black mold (Stachybotrys chararum) infestation, and mildew buildup.

Its toxic spores cover surfaces in minutes, and move inside wall spaces within hours. Particularly vulnerable are rooms and areas where moisture collects, air circulates or ventilates improperly, and water fails to drain completely.

The toxic fungi harbors, often hidden, long before you see its black or slimy green signs on surfaces such as walls, ceilings, furniture, cabinetry, carpet, etc. However, one of its earliest signs is an odd musty smell in the air.

Buildings in areas ravaged by very heavy rains, floods, hurricanes, even tornadoes, and earthquakes readily succumb to massive fungi buildups. Often so severe that the structures must be destroyed and every part of it removed. By HAZMAT (hazardous materials) teams trained and certified for the job.

The fungi infiltration can cause property owners and occupants great expense, inconvenience, and damage. It can cause health and safety risks to both humans and animals. It can necessitate the closing down of a business. It can lead to the sealing off of an entire building, even the demolition of a once-valuable piece of property.

In the Hospitality Industry – eg. hotels, motels, it can create special challenges. Especially with buildings and structures that are older, or have environmental issues. Structures designed with poor ventilation, drainage and piping systems. Structures built with extremely porous materials.

One problem occurs with rooms that are equipped with window air conditioners. Guests tend to turn off the units when they leave for the day, or check out. Just like they might at home, to conserve energy. The temperature rises in the sealed, unventilated room. The humidity builds up.

Sometimes, the fungi may have been “residing” already in inconspicuous spots, or inside the walls. And/or, it has built up, over days, when guests have requested reduced maid service during stays. By the time housekeepers are able to drop off fresh towels and remove damp/wet bath linens, tiny black or slimy green spores may have moved into the area. Prompt attention is called for.

Whatever the situation, the mitigation (reduction) and remediation (counteracting, removal) of the black mold and mildew requires vigilance, care and teamwork. It requires housekeeping and maintenance staffs to work together, during the entire, to keep ahead of the build-ups.

Similar scenarios play out in many other structures – eg. office buildings, hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, restaurants, laundry/dry cleaners, stores, storage units. In buildings and areas occupied by the same persons, repeatedly and for longer periods of time, exposure to mold and mildew can be especially toxic and harmful.

Your home can be just as, if not more, susceptible to mold and mildew contamination. Every surface and area can serve as a host for those black fungal spores. Every person that lives or visits the home can be exposed to the toxic spores, as they emit into the atmosphere, or cling to anything they can. Every person (and animal) has the potential to develop respiratory and lung diseases, certain cancers, skin disease, vision problems, brain disorders, even reproductive damage. In the home, buildups of black mold and mildew tend to be very dangerous.

The length and frequency of human exposure to the fungi tends to be much longer, and repetitive. Infiltration, infestation, or contamination tends to be greater, and the coverage denser. After all, home is where you (and your family members) usually sleep, eat, bathe, study, watch television, work at the computer, launder, etc. It’s where you “house” the clothes you wear, the bed and bath linens that touch your skin, beauty/skin/hygiene products you use, the small appliances, computers and hand-held electronics you operate, the papers and documents you file and store.

Professional painters that work in mold and mildew prone regions of the country pay close attention to this problem. Their first concern is for the persons that live, work, or visit in and around these buildings and areas. Experienced painters know that these persons are at higher risk of developing adverse reactions and both short-term and long-term health and safety challenges. They know that continuous exposure to black mold spores can lead to toxic poisoning.

Their second concern is trade-related. Paint, varnish, wallcovering, texturing, and custom decorating products or materials do not adhere well to contaminated surfaces. Quality results and durability cannot be guaranteed. No guarantees mean no happy customers.

A third concern is compliance. More experienced, journey-level painters possess extensive knowledge of chemicals, toxic contaminants and compounds, hazardous materials, and environmental hazards. Most are certified in two or more of the following areas:

  1. government, health and safety standards (eg. OSHA, EPA, ADA);
  2. manufacturer product handling, storage and disposal standards (MSDS, SSPC);
  3. hazardous materials handling (HAZMAT);
  4. painting trade procedures and standards (IUPAT, HAZWOPR);
  5. construction industry (UBC, asbestos).

Some painters, especially industrial, are getting trained and certified in areas related to the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), under the EPA. Some are taking the certification program offered through the Society of Chemical Manufacturers (SOCM).

Professional painters accept and understand that thorough mitigation and remediation of toxic black mold and mildew, before prepping surfaces for finishing, is essential. It must be done right. It must be done in a healthy and safe manner.

That’s one reason why many painters turn over the mitigation and remediation of major and/or dense black mold and mildew buildups to professionals. These persons have been trained and licensed as mold mitigation and remediation specialists (MRSP).

Yes, using professional remediators adds to the cost of the painting/finishing project. In the long run, however, it protects everyone from unnecessary exposure and harm. The property occupants, visitors, painters, other craftspersons, etc. An added benefit: the post-treatment inspection – a part of the remediation contract – helps to ensure that the building is safe to use in the future.

Bottom line: Black mold and mildew must be removed. Persons, as well as pets, must be protected from suffering adverse reactions, and developing short-term and long-term medical conditions.

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