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Managing allergies in the workplace

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

allergiesworkplaceAn estimated 21 million adults in the UK suffer from at least one allergy. Some of these may be mild, such as hayfever, and some may be more serious, putting people at risk of severe allergic reactions, like anaphylactic shock. Most people with allergies know exactly how to avoid their triggers, and when in a controlled environment like the home, can ensure their home is allergy-free. However, at work, most people have far less control over things like the ventilation system, the location of a workstation, the temperature and humidity, and even the materials used on the job.

With hot summer weather, allergies can be exacerbated even more. The pollen count goes up, making life miserable for hayfever sufferers, and pollution levels can increase, especially in big cities. A recent study from researchers at Kings College London found that nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London due to long-term exposure to air pollution, more than twice as many as previously thought. This shocking statistic highlights how those of us who work full-time – especially those of us working in highly populated areas – need to be more aware of the allergy triggers around us at work.

A 2012 study by Allergy UK surveyed office workers, primarily allergy sufferers, asking them about their office environment and how it affected them. 95% of respondents said they had experienced allergy symptoms in the workplace, including nasal problems, eye conditions, dry throats, breathing difficulties, lethargy, headaches and skin irritations.

According to Allergy UK there are numerous ‘hotspots’ around the office that can have implications for allergy sufferers. Dust mites, pollens, and moulds are common and invisible allergy triggers in the workplace. These allergens get trapped in office buildings, as well as in things like carpeted floors and cluttered desks. If employees’ allergies are being triggered in the workplace, employers can carry out a risk assessment to identify and remove those triggers.

Employees can also take steps to lessen their allergies at work. Below are some top tips for staying allergy-free at work:

  • Ensure your office is properly ventilated – having clean air around you is extremely important. However, if you have hayfever sufferers in the office, keep the windows closed in the early morning and late afternoon, as this is when the pollen count is highest
  • Ensure your desk is regularly cleared and cleaned, so that it is not harbouring any dust or allergens that will make your symptoms worse
  • If there are plants in the workplace, ensure they are regularly watered and the top soil removed to ensure mould isn’t harboured
  • Hang coats and jackets in a separate closet or away from the main working area, as these can harbour dust and pet hair

If you have queries or concerns about allergies in the workplace, you can chat online to a Fit for Work specialist advisor, email a question or call 0800 032 6235.

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