Why It Matters: Combating Workplace Odors

July 10, 2020 

By: Jackie Edwards 

The odors in your workplace can sometimes be unpleasant. From the smell of unusual lunches to the scent of an overcrowded meeting room, there are many scents that can be an irritant. Then there are the more serious smells, like industrial cleaner, chemicals, paints and waste. These odors can actually cause some serious health issues for the people in the workplace. But who is responsible for taking care of these smells and what can be done about them? Ultimately, it is down to the employer to firstly educate their employees on combating unpleasant odors in the workplace and to tackle more serious smell violations. 

How odors affect workers

Research done by Rachel Herz, a psychology professor at Brown University, found that bad odors can have a significant effect on employees productivity. Employees were more likely to make bad judgement calls at work and become frustrated quickly in an environment with bad smells. However, pleasant scents in the workplace led the employees in the study to experience more creativity and better focus. The people surveyed were alert for longer and generally had a more positive frame of mind. Interestingly, bad odors can even affect employee’s confidence levels — if the office smells good, workers are more likely to set more ambitious goals and feel more confident about achieving them. 

More serious odors

More serious odors, that are caused by chemicals such as paint and industrial cleaning materials can actually have adverse health effects on employees. The presence of these odors can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath and skin irritation at work. For some people, the severity of these symptoms can mean that they are unable to carry out their normal work, which in turn could even cause symptoms of anxiety. This is why these odors need to be dealt with as a priority

Increasing workplace airflow

Having adequate ventilation is key in the battle against odors. In an indoor space, there must be a way of creating air flow to get rid of fumes and unpleasant smells. This is especially important if the odors are caused by chemical products like spray paint and industrial cleaning products. Open the windows and doors as wide as possible to dilute the odors. In the winter months if it is cold, even ventilating the office for an hour after the majority of people have left the building can be effective. Another way to improve air flow is to place box fans in each room — these can be easily fixed to the wall and are ideal for cooling. Air purifiers are also helpful and will keep the air in the workplace as clean and fresh as possible. They use multiple filters to remove the dust, mold, smoke and odors to help improve the quality of air that we are breathing. 

Implementing a workplace odor policy 

Every employer should take responsibility for smell violations in the workplace and implement a policy. Conduct regular surveys and assessments with your employees to determine the odor issues that there are in the workplace. Designate a responsible person to oversee this project who will communicate with everyone that odors affect, making sure that they involve the health and safety representatives. When you have finalized your policy, you should then educate all employees about it’s importance and how they can play their part. Make it clear that they are responsible too for managing and reporting smell violations in the workplace. Your odor policy should also be reviewed regularly to make sure that it is effective. 

Bad odors can make a workplace unpleasant for everyone. If odors are not tackled, they can affect the health and wellbeing of your employees as well as productivity.