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Allergies and Workplace Safety

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We are heading into Spring, better known for those who suffer from seasoning allergies as the season of headaches, sneezing, itchy eyes and skin, as well as congestion. Allergies affect one in five Americans, and studies show allergies significantly impact workplace productivity, with one study reporting that Americans lose 3.5 million workdays each year due to allergies.

While you can’t cure your employees’ allergies, you can help limit the impact of allergens in their workplace. What is an allergy? It’s being hypersensitive to a substance – those who suffer have an overreaction from their immune system to the allergen, which can cause a physical response that outweighs the substance’s harm. There are several varieties of workplace allergens to consider, including:
• Animal dander and debris
• Food
• Industrial chemicals, such as solvents, bleaches and even cleaning products
• Latex
• Perfumes and odorants
• Pollen
• Dust
• Mold
• Wood dust and resins

It’s important for employers and employees to both understand the allergens specific to their workplace, including identifying triggers and best allergy treatment. Making sure work areas are very well-ventilated, have lower humidity to minimize mold and are kept clean and dust-free on a regular basis are great steps to lessening allergens. While it is near to impossible to keep all allergens out of a workplace, here is a list of some common and relatively inexpensive modifications that could improve your workplace health:
• Run the AC system during peak allergy season (do not open windows even though the weather seems perfect, the trees are releasing lots of pollen!)
• Use HEPA air filters – and change them regularly (monthly or more during peak allergy season)
• Make sure your workplace areas are cleaned regularly – and encourage your employees to clean and dusty their workspaces regularly as well
• Identify and repair any water damage – it doesn’t take long for mold to start growing
• Remove carpet and other absorbent materials that are known collectors of allergens
• Provide appropriate protective gear, such as respirators, face shields and gloves, when employees handle industrial chemicals or other irritants

Spring is a great time to jumpstart cleaning, hence the term Spring Cleaning! Keep your most important assets – your employees – as safe and healthy this spring and throughout the rest of the year. And keeping allergens at bay as much as possible is one great way to do just that!

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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