Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Scents in the Workplace

Individuals who are affected by allergic rhinitis and asthma may find that strong scents trigger their symptoms. Products with strong odors include:

In some cases the reaction could be the result of an allergy but often the scent acts as an irritant, triggering symptoms in sensitive tissues of the lungs or nose.

While sensitive individuals can usually control their exposure to strong smells in their own homes it is not as easy to do this in the workplace.

Since most people spend most of their time indoors, much of it at work, it is not surprising that they want a comfortable work place with good air quality.

Some employers have begun to encourage a "scent-free" workplace by asking employees to reduce or avoid the use of scented products. This is particularly true of hospitals and medical clinics where certain patients may be particularly affected by strong odors, e.g., those with asthma. There is also a growing demand for such measures on behalf of sensitive employees everywhere.

If a co-worker's cologne or the cleaning products used in your office are bothering you, what can you do?

The AAIA believes that education, rather than confrontation or legislation, is the best approach. Solicit cooperation by first approaching an individual or employee, explaining that scented products affect you adversely. When doing this be sure to convey that you are not critical of the person but that you would like their cooperation because of your sensitivity to a scent. Use credible printed information about allergies and asthma to back up your request. If the approach does not work then speak to your immediate supervisor. In doing so it may help to solicit the support of co-workers who feel the same way that you do.

Even if you are not bothered by scents yourself, consider switching to non-scented products in the workplace to lessen indoor pollution.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 2 2004

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