How to deal with allergies in the workplace
Figures released by Allergy UK show that by 2015 50% of Europeans will suffer from some form of allergy – especially indoors allergies. In total, 5.7 million people could be allergic to the workplace. With that in mind, it’s important to get to grips with this growing problem and help allergy sufferers.
What are the main allergies?
If you suffer from skin irritations, headaches, difficulties with breathing or eye problems, you may be allergic to your workplace. Many offices are poorly ventilated and this intensifies the risk of airborne allergens. Lethargy is also often the result of an inadequately ventilated office. Glove liners are a solution if you work in an environment where your skin is likely to come into contact with chemicals and toxins and have to wear protective latex gloves – 16% of healthcare workers suffer from this problem. Patients can also develop latex allergies.
Asthma in the workplace
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a report listing some of the reasons behind the growing number of asthmatics in the UK. If you work as a baker, for example, you should make sure that dust extractors are in use, and, if possible wear a dust protector. The same advice applies to those teaching cookery and those working in commercial kitchens.
Carpets in the office can harm your health
If you’re developing an itchy rash, and aren’t quite sure why you have it, the chances are that you work in an office with a carpet and have developed eczema. In fact, office carpets can also affect asthmatics and are the cause of many other allergies. Offices are rarely cleaned efficiently, and those with a carpet covered floor harbour dust mites. 90% of UK offices surveyed by Allergy UK had carpeted floor surfaces, and the potential for workplace health problems is huge.
If you belong to a union, ask your representative to highlight the matter with the management. Alternatively, you could suggest to your employer that a wooden or laminated floor is easier to clean and wouldn’t result in staff having to take time off as a result of their allergies.
Coping with food allergies
Many people are allergic to a numerous array of foods. You should always let your co-workers know if you suffer from these problems in order to protect yourself. If a colleague has handled a food that you are allergic to, make sure that everyone is aware that sometimes the slightest remnant of this substance can set off your allergy. Place notices in the office kitchen and ask that people wash their hands after handling food. They should do this anyway, but if, for example, you’re allergic to nuts, you don’t want to use a workspace where the last user has been enjoying a packet of peanuts.
Pollen and hayfever
A seasonal allergy is hayfever. If you suffer from this and notice that your symptoms have become worse at work, make sure that a colleague hasn’t brought any pollen producing summer plants into the office. There are certain medications that can help you with this problem, but it’s usually a good idea to try and detect the source of the allergy before it becomes a major problem.
Photo: Lars Plougmann