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How To Tackle Allergies In The Workplace

Woman sneezing into a tissue

How To Tackle Allergies In The Workplace

Spring brings lots of good things with it. The days are warmer and getting longer, allowing people to soak up the Vitamin D they’ve been missing.

However, the changing seasons can also bring difficulties to lots of Brits with allergies.

One in four people in the UK suffers from hay fever, and as many as 20 millions Brits have allergies.

Allergies can cause symptoms such as watery eyes, itchy skin and breathing difficulties. These symptoms can be very hard to manage and make it difficult for those affected to go about their day.

It’s likely that a member of every workforce has allergies. Symptoms can make workers unhappy, less productive and depending on the severity, can result in serious illness or death.

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of employees as much as “reasonably practicable”. That’s why it’s important that employers know how to tackle allergies in the workplace.

In this guide we’ll explain how you can identify allergy hotspots, what you can do to reduce the chance of allergens in the area and what else employers can do to help allergy sufferers.

How To Identify Allergy Hotspots

People can be allergic to any number of things but there are a few substances that are common allergens.

  • Tree and grass pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Animal hair
  • Food – particularly nuts, fruits, shellfish, eggs and milk
  • Insect bites
  • Medicines
  • Latex
  • Mould
  • Household chemicals – such as cleaning supplies and detergents

You should keep this list of common allergens in mind while trying to establish where the risks are in your workplace.

Consider how each of these allergens could enter your workplace and what you can do to prevent that.

How To Reduce Allergens In The Workplace

Different allergens can enter your workplace in different ways. So you need to know the way to stop each kind.

Reducing Dust Mites

Dust mites are one of the most common allergens in homes and workplaces. Dust mites can be found in carpets and most upholstered furniture. And it’s hard to completely remove them.

You can limit exposure to dust mite allergens with:

  • Regular cleaning: Dust mites can be found all over the workplace. Regular dusting and carpet cleaning are vital to keep on top of them. Standard dry vacuuming isn’t very effective for picking up dust mites but consider steam cleaning carpets when possible.
  • Improved air quality: Either by keeping windows and doors open, or using a HEPA filter. Be mindful of other allergens that could enter the environment if you have windows open though.

Reducing Animal Allergens

You might think that animal allergens are only a consideration for pet-friendly offices, but allergens are often carried on people’s clothes.

This means that any employee that has a dog or cat can bring allergens into the environment.

This can be limited by ensuring that workers have a separate area to store their coats and outerwear, and where possible sitting pet owners away from those with allergies.

Reducing Seasonal Allergens

Seasonal allergies are caused by grass and tree pollen. Keeping these allergens out of the workplace means preventing pollen from entering.

Unfortunately most pollen enters the building through open windows, which complicates the common allergy advice about improving air quality.

Consider alternatives to opening windows, such as using air conditioning. But make sure to use an air filter to prevent allergens entering the building through the ventilation.

You can still open the windows but should avoid doing so in the morning or towards the end of the workday, as this is when the pollen count will be highest.

It can seem counter-intuitive but you can also help with hayfever by adding plants to your workplace. Indoor plants can help to clean the air and remove allergens. By picking houseplants that won’t release excess pollen, you can help to clear the air naturally.

Just be mindful that allergy sufferers can still react to low pollen indoor plants and you might have to remove them.

Reducing Food Allergens

Food allergies can be varied. From the range of potential food allergies to the reaction an allergy sufferer can experience if they come into contact with an allergen.

Unlike other types of allergies, the only way to prevent food allergens from entering the workplace is by talking with staff.

If an employee has a severe nut or shellfish allergy, you should consider how to limit their exposure to these items. Either by an outright ban on eating nuts in the office, or limiting the areas of the workplace where certain foods can be consumed or stored.

What Can Employers Do?

Employer’s influence isn’t limited to just reducing the likelihood of allergens in the workplace. You can put policies in place to assist your workers and make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable at work.

Speak To Your Staff

No one is going to know how to manage an allergy better than the individual it affects. You should speak to your workers and give them an opportunity to disclose their allergies and any support that you can provide.

If an employee discloses an allergy to you, ask them what you can do to make them feel comfortable and if they have an action plan in case of an allergic reaction.

Others may need to know about the allergies, such as first-aiders, but be sure the employee is happy for that information to be shared before you do so.

Consider An Allergy Policy

You might choose to implement an allergy policy for your staff. This should be included as part of your employee handbook and set out rules regarding common allergens. For example, you could ban certain foods at desks or in the communal fridge.

A policy like this should be created with the assistance of allergy sufferers to tell you what would benefit them most.

Ensure Inclusivity

Having allergies can lead to workers feeling excluded from social events. After work drinks can be cut short if snacks include peanuts and work lunches can be a minefield if the restaurant isn’t accessible.

Part of your role as a manager is to ensure the happiness of workers and make sure nobody is left out because their needs aren’t being taken into account when plans are made.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to allergies in the workplace and it’s unlikely that any steps could ever completely remove the risk of an allergic reaction.

But there are a lot of simple things you can put in place to keep staff safe and make sure allergy sufferers on your staff feel looked after.

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About The Author
Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula. Kate is a thought leader on HR and employment law, involved in developing Peninsula’s expert law advisors and ensuring each client gets the answers they need every time they call. Kate’s expertise is sought after frequently with authoritative commentary regularly featured on BBC TV and radio channels, as well as writing informational HR and employment law guides for the Peninsula blog.
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