For many in Western North Carolina, April marks the real beginning of spring. But for some, it also marks the beginning of allergy season — and seasonal allergies or allergic reactions can make a serious impact on the workplace.
Allergies can reduce workplace productivity, increase medical costs, and make your employees miserable. While you can’t cure employees’ allergies, you can help mitigate the impact of allergens in your company.
The Cost of Workplace Allergies
Studies show that allergies can significantly impact workplace productivity. One study reports that Americans lose 3.5 million workdays each year due to allergies. Moreover, there are between nine and 10 million allergy-related doctor visits each year, making allergy treatment a major part of employees’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Common workplace allergies
Basically, an allergy is a hypersensitivity to a substance. When an allergic employee is exposed to an allergen, his or her immune system responds inappropriately — causing a physical response that may even outweigh the allergen’s harm. There are a wide variety of workplace allergens that may potentially impact your employees, including:
- Animal dander and debris
- Certain foods
- Industrial chemicals like solvents, bleaches, and adhesives
- Perfumes and odorants
- Pollen, dust, and molds
- Wood dust and resins
While many allergy symptoms are merely inconvenient, some can be life-threatening. Allergies can cause anaphylactic shock, asthma, contact dermatitis, hives and rashes, and rhinitis (inflamed nasal passages), so trying to mitigate or eliminate allergens in the workplace is a worthwhile goal.
Improve Your Workplace Environment
Identifying allergens in the workplace is a great place to start. Once you have a list of allergens to avoid you can begin minimizing the impact of allergies throughout your company. If any of your employees suffer from serious or life-threatening allergies, work with them to build an appropriate response plan, which could include emergency treatment options like antihistamines, inhalers, and EpiPens.
Work to identify mold, fungus, or ventilation problems that could lead to increased allergic reactions, or consider modifications that might improve the workplace environment and increase overall workplace health.
- run the office AC system during peak allergy season (typically the spring and fall).
- use HEPA air filters in the office and change them regularly.
- mitigate mold growth by identifying and repairing water damage.
- encourage employees to clean their workspaces regularly to reduce the amount of dust, mold, and other irritants in the office.
- regularly clean carpet and other absorbent materials that might collect allergens.
- provide appropriate protective gear (such as respirators, gloves, and barrier creams) for employees who contact industrial chemicals or other irritants.
Working to reduce allergens in your place of business can have a significant impact on productivity and employee satisfaction. Mercy Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine can help you identify potential allergens and suggest mitigation efforts by conducting a workplace walkthrough, among other Safe & Well services. Contact Mercy Occupational Medicine staff at (828) 274-6707 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss options for workplace assessments.
Source: OSHA, CDC, Canopy Health