Allergies reduce workplace productivity, increase medical costs, and make your employees miserable. While you can’t cure your employees’ allergies, you can help limit the impact of allergens in your office. Keep reading to learn how you can improve employee wellness and fight allergies.
Common Workplace Allergies
An allergy is a hypersensitivity to a substance. When an allergic employee is exposed to an allergen, his or her immune system responds inappropriately and overreacts — sometimes causing a physical response that outweighs the substance’s harm. While some allergies develop quickly, most manifest over time with repeated exposures.
There are a wide variety of workplace allergens that could potentially impact your employees, including:
- Animal dander and debris
- Food allergies
- Industrial chemicals — such as solvents, bleaches, and adhesives
- Perfumes and odorants
- Pollen, dust, and molds
- Wood dust and resins
While many allergy symptoms are merely inconvenient, some are life-threatening. While symptoms will vary from employee to employee, allergies can cause anaphylactic shock, asthma, contact dermatitis, hives and rashes, and rhinitis (inflamed nasal passages).
The Cost of Workplace Allergies
Studies show that allergies significantly impact workplace productivity. One study reports that Americans lose 3.5 million workdays each year due to allergies. Another suggests that, even when at the office, allergy-afflicted employees are roughly 10% less productive than their healthy counterparts. Further, about nine to ten million doctors’ visits each year are allergy-related, making allergy treatment a major part of your employees’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Finally, employers must comply with a series of laws governing employee disabilities and workplace safety. Make sure you understand your legal duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Cal/OSHA, and California workers’ compensation law. Violations of these laws might result in financial penalties, lawsuits, and other legal disputes.
Improve Your Workplace Environment
You should try to identify and minimize the impact of workplace allergies. If you have employees with life-threatening allergies, take them seriously and work with them to build an appropriate allergy response plan. For example, you might have emergency treatment options on site, such as antihistamines, inhalers, and EpiPens.
If you notice a significant increase in your employees’ milder allergy symptoms, look for possible causes. You might have an unidentified mold, fungus, or ventilation problem. And while many allergic exposures are unavoidable, some relatively inexpensive modifications might improve your workplace health.
- Run the office AC system during peak allergy season (typically the spring, when many Bay Area trees release pollen).
- Use HEPA air filters in the office and change them regularly.
- Take building maintenance and cleanliness seriously.
- Identify and repair water damage, reducing mold growth.
- Encourage employees to regularly clean their desks and workspaces, reducing the amount of dust, mold, and other irritants in the office.
- Remove carpet and other absorbent materials that might collect allergens.
- Provide appropriate protective gear (such as respirators, gloves, and barrier creams) when employees handle industrial chemicals and other irritants.
- When possible, look for alternatives to common workplace allergens.
Encourage Proactive Medical Treatment
Many people think they know their allergic triggers, but they’re often wrong or don’t distinguish between a trigger and an everyday occurrence. Misidentified allergies can lead to ineffective treatment, increased symptoms, and decreased workplace productivity. If your employees are struggling with serious allergies, encourage them to seek treatment with an allergy specialist.
Allergy testing — combined with targeted medications and other treatment — might significantly improve their daily function. If your current healthcare plans don’t offer your employees enough high-quality, affordable allergy and immunology options, it might be time to look for a new employer-based health plan.
Burton, M.D., W. (2001, January). The impact of allergies and allergy treatment on worker productivity. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.acoem.org/Page3Column.aspx?PageID=7351&id=1430