With people spending so much time in the workplace, employers need to be aware of allergies that could be affecting their team and how best to manage them.
- While the wellbeing of your staff should be front of mind, it’s also worth noting the financial impact that sickness due to allergy absence could be having on your business.
- If anyone in your team becomes irritated by allergies, or worse, suffers a severe adverse reaction, you could be liable as you have a duty of care to protect your staff from harm
- Upskilling your existing staff and new recruits can help your workforce to be aware of the risks that come with allergies
A 2015 study found that allergies could be costing the UK economy £1.8 billion due to sick pay, replacement staff, and lost productivity/revenue.
What is an allergy?
According to the NHS definition:
‘An allergy is where your body reacts to something that’s normally harmless like pollen, dust or animal fur.’
Allergies are thought to affect one in four people in the UK at some point in their lives. For some, the effects are minor, but for others, they can be severe and potentially life-threatening.
An allergic reaction could trigger an asthma attack, present itself as hives, or cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock, which is highly dangerous.
How to protect your workers with allergies
The best way to protect your workers who have allergies is to speak to them and understand how you can support them.
- Don’t make assumptions about what you can do for them; it’s better to hear their experiences and get a good idea of what they need.
- Make sure the rest of your team are aware of any employee allergies, so that everyone can identify any risks that may be posed.
- Any first aiders on site should also understand how to help anyone who is suffering an allergic reaction, particularly those who may have gone into anaphylactic shock.
Your Health & Safety Manager should know how to respond in an emergency and be able to take allergic reactions into account when they’re conducting risk assessments.
If you’re hiring new staff, you shouldn’t ask any questions about their health. However, there are some exceptions when it comes to establishing any adjustments that will need to be made for new recruits to do their job effectively. *You should speak to your recruitment team to make sure you’re asking the right questions.
10 most common workplace allergies and how to manage them
Managing your team’s allergies is important for the wellbeing of your workforce. Here are a few ways you can reduce the risk of allergic reactions happening on your premises:
Latex can be found in gloves, tubing, and elastic. Swapping your latex products for latex-free alternatives can help to minimise the risk of rashes, skin irritation, or sneezing.
2. Hay fever (grass and tree pollen allergies)
If your team is working indoors, try to keep windows closed as much as possible to avoid pollen entering the building. You should also keep any coats separate from the main workspace as there may be pollen on outer clothing.
3. Food (e.g. nuts, milk)
Food allergies can be really serious so it’s important that any sensitivities to foods are established among the whole team. If there are nut allergies, for example, everyone should be made aware so that nobody brings in nuts as a snack.
You should also make sure there is a space available for anyone with a food allergy to leave their lunch, separate from everyone else’s.
Keeping your premises damp-proofed and making sure it’s well ventilated is important to prevent mould forming. If you notice any mould developing, try to deal with it as soon as possible to stop it becoming a bigger problem.
Any plants within your office should also be given fresh soil regularly to stop mould from forming on the topsoil.
5. Cleaning products
To avoid cleaning products kickstarting an allergic reaction, look for products that are created ethically or ask your cleaning company if they have any sensitive alternatives.
6. Air fresheners
Air fresheners can trigger congestion and sneezing in some people so try not to use them throughout your premises. Look for natural or organic alternatives instead.
7. Insect bites & stings
If your staff are working outside, they should cover as much of their skin as possible to avoid being bitten or stung.
Sometimes, bites and stings are unavoidable. A first aider should be on hand to remove the sting or tick and wash the area with soap and water, if someone has a minor reaction to it. Having a cold compress on hand can also help with any inflammation.
8. Dust mites
Make sure the premises are cleaned regularly to avoid dust mites being a problem. Carpets can harbour dust and dust mites, so replace these where you can if it’s an issue in your workplace.
All your first aiders should be aware of any allergies to medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, which may be a first port of call for any minor ailments. Making sure this isn’t administered to anyone with allergies is crucial.
10. Wood dust & resins
In a manufacturing environment, your team may be working with wood dust and resins which could cause an allergic reaction. Wearing the appropriate PPE to avoid breathing in wood dust or having contact with the skin could help reduce any risks to your team.
Train your team to look out for Health & Safety risks
Upskilling your existing staff and new recruits can help your workforce to be aware of the risks that come with allergies.