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Allergies are nothing to sneeze at 

Follow these tips to help control allergies that can affect health and safety at work.

Allergies

Allergies caused by pollen from trees, grass, and other plants are widespread at this time of year.   

But hundreds of substances in virtually every industry can cause allergic reactions, affecting workers’ safety, health, and productivity. They include wood and concrete dust found in sawmills and on construction sites, fumes from bleaching agents used by hairdressers, and animal products encountered on farms and in veterinarian offices. 

According to the 2017 paper “Occupational Allergy” in the European Medical Journal (Occupational Allergy - European Medical Journal (emjreviews.com), about 11 million workers in the U.S. are potentially exposed to agents that can cause allergic diseases such as occupational asthma and contact dermatitis.   

“The impact of occupational allergic diseases is significant,” says Liz Hill, SAIF Total Worker Health adviser. “They can affect health, impact the ability to work at specific jobs and in certain work areas, and lead to absenteeism and decreased productivity.”   

Here are tips to help mitigate or control some allergic reactions that occur in the workplace.  

Asthma, nasal or sinus allergies, and other breathing problems can be caused or made worse by allergens such as pollen, animal dander, and dust. To help control them:  

  • Eliminate or substitute hazardous processes or materials.  
  • Ensure proper ventilation, using HEPA filters and changing them regularly.  
  • Install source controls, such as local exhaust ventilation.  
  • Keep facilities clean and encourage people to clean their workspaces regularly to reduce dust and mold.  
  • Establish a no-smoking policy in the workplace. Tobacco smoke is a trigger for some people with asthma.  

Contact dermatitis often occurs in chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, and health care, janitorial, or similar environments. When employees come into contact with irritants such as latex, solvents, and cleaning supplies, they can experience hives, a painful rash, itchiness, or swelling. To help control it:  

  • Look into replacing the irritant with a less hazardous substance.  
  • Install appropriate ventilation or an isolation booth if possible.  
  • Provide protective gear to employees who regularly handle irritants.  
  • Ensure employees know what substances they’re working with. 
  • Ensure employees follow instructions for handling and using substances and materials.  

“Controlling workplace allergen and sensitizer exposures are an important element in supporting worker well-being,” says Hill. “There are multiple techniques that are available for employers to utilize.”     

Asthma and allergies cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. Mitigating common workplace allergens can increase productivity, reduce medical costs, and improve workplace morale. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.   

These SAIF resources offer helpful information: