How to deal with fragrance sensitivities in the workplace

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It’s hard to believe something as innocent as scented perfume could cause a person to have health issues, but fragrance sensitivity — an allergic reaction or irritation to chemicals in certain products — is very real and, depending on the severity, can become problematic in the workplace. In many of my stay-at-work and return-to-work cases, individuals have aversions to chemicals, fumes and other scents floating around in the work environment. Irritation with perfume and similar fragrances are the most prevalent. So, what’s a manager to do if this situation arises?

It’s going to be difficult to pinpoint any one scent perpetrator since they can come from lotions, shampoos and other products. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers this series of symptoms that can help you determine whether an employee has a vulnerability to fragrances:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Respiratory ailments
  • Nausea
  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Sneezing, runny nose or congestion
  • Difficulty with concentration

And in more severe cases, individuals may be afflicted with a skin allergy called contact dermatitis, which causes redness, itching and burning of the skin. Whether fragrance sensitivity becomes a medical condition is determined on a case-by-case basis.1

To help prevent an employee’s situation from worsening or possibly causing a leave of absence, implementing a few modifications may be in order. Here are a few suggestions to consider.2

  • Maintain good indoor air quality
  • Discontinue the use of fragranced products
  • Use only unscented cleaning products
  • Provide scent-free meeting rooms and restrooms
  • Modify workstation location
  • Modify the work schedule
  • Allow for fresh air breaks
  • Provide an air purification system
  • Modify communication methods
  • Modify or create a fragrance-free workplace policy
  • Telework

Fragrance-free policies

Issuing a fragrance-free work environment may be the best solution to avoid exacerbating ones’ health issues. According to JAN, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers may not be required to ban fragrances. This is because of the difficulty of enforcing the ban, especially when the public has access to the workplace. JAN suggests employers with concerns about the legalities of implementing a fragrance-free policy consult an appropriate legal professional.

The Canadian Lung Association has an interesting sample implementation plan that will help policy adopters with helpful tips, including some workplace policy examples.

 

Whether you decide to go totally fragrance-free, or take gradual steps to improving the air quality in the workplace, you can create a less stressful environment for employees which will likely result in keeping employees on the job and productive.

 

To learn even more about indoor air quality, I’d recommend this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency article.

 


1http://hr.blr.com/whitepapers/HR-Administration/Facilities/Your-Cologne-Is-Making-Me-Sick-Fragrances-Allergie/
BLR® is a leading compliance information and training company established to help organizations comply with federal and state legal rules and requirements related to (DOL), (OSHA) and (EPA), as well as general employee training, policies and best practices.

2http://askjan.org/media/fragrance.html

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