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Identifying and Eliminating Allergies in the Office

By: Jackie Edwards

Across America, workplace allergies — in particular occupational asthma — accounts for approximately 10% of all asthma cases, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Symptoms can be mild where employees are uncomfortable and may need to use an inhaler more often or they can be severe where going to the office becomes a health hazard. Employers have a responsibility to keep their staff safe, but it can be difficult to identify and remove an allergen. Avoiding bringing allergens into the office in the first place is usually the better option.
Pests are more common than you think
Pests are a common trigger for allergies, particularly in people who already have asthma, and are more common in the workplace than you may realize. Common pests include rodents, cockroaches, and bedbugs. Rodents and cockroaches are both attracted to food and office kitchens have a bad reputation for being unhygienic. Crumbs on the work surface, overflowing bins, and moldy food will all attract them straight into the office and they can get through tiny holes, cracks, and even the plumbing, so keeping the office kitchen clean is a must. Contrary to their name, bedbugs are found in places other than beds, such as on office chairs, sofas, and any other soft furnishings and are easily brought in from someone’s home to the office, quickly causing an infestation.

Preventing and eliminating pests
One good thing about pests is that they always leave a trace so finding that they’re a problem in the office is fairly easy. Cockroaches and rodents will leave small, dark droppings and you may notice corners around the office or packets of food have bite marks in them. Bedbugs are harder to spot but will cause small red bite marks on people that can flare up in those sensitive to them. An exterminator may be needed if the situation is bad and getting a cleaner in to regularly clean and maintain the kitchen and other areas of the office will reduce the likelihood of pests coming back. Teaching employees about food hygiene will help them to know what they can do differently that will keep common pests away too. Any leaking or broken plumbing can be a way in for cockroaches, so make sure staff report problems quickly so that they can be resolved.

Other allergens at the office
People can be allergic to almost anything but there are some things that are more likely to trigger people. Food allergies can be a big one in the workplace, so prioritizing separate kitchen countertops and storage areas can keep people safe. Making others aware of food allergies amongst their colleagues will help people to follow the rules. Other common allergens include plants, dust, mold, cleaning products, and paints.
When kitting out the office, employers should pick allergy-friendly products where possible to reduce the chance of triggering employees. Regular cleaning of the office with natural, allergen-free cleaning products will also help to prevent allergens from building up. Some employees may also be allergic to workplace renovations that are taking place, such as new carpets, glues, and the increased dust levels from moving things around. Take precautions to avoid how much contact employees have with renovation areas as they’re happening can help but offering them to chance to work from home if possible can be the best solution sometimes.
Workplace allergies caused by pests and other issues are common and can have a significant impact on employees to the point where they’re unable to continue working in the office. Taking precautions as an employer is ideal, but in some cases employees may need to work from home or in a different part of the business to keep them safe and healthy.