Preparing for Allergies in the Office

Allergies are extremely prevalent. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 30 percent of adults in the United States have some form of hypersensitivity to a certain substance. Additionally, the affliction is the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S.

As a small business owner considering these facts, you’ll want to do everything you can to reduce the risk that an employee will suffer an allergic reaction at the office. While allergies can range from a mere seasonal annoyance to a life-threatening condition requiring immediate attention, your company can reduce some of these risks with a comprehensive allergy preparedness plan.

Allergy preparedness is a term used to discuss how ready your business is to handle allergic reactions and interactions within the workplace. There are several steps your business can take to reduce risks:

Educate Employees and Management

Employees should obtain basic education on what allergic reactions are and how to spot one in a coworker or customer. An important first step is bringing in a health professional for a training session that will detail how to identify and react to warning signs, as well as provide tips for preventing allergies. This will ensure that your employees have this vital information in case an emergency situation occurs.

Second, companies also need to know what an employee’s rights are when he or she has an allergy, and understand the need to minimize exposure and risk as an employer.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may require you provide your employee with a safe working space if and when that employee has alerted you to an allergy, as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America describes. Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules, a person who suffers severe respiratory difficulties and allergies that could be considered life-threatening should be treated as a person with a disability when it comes to hiring, according to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Work to Minimize Risks

To prepare for a potential incident, consider these initiatives:

  • Circulate a company-wide memo and associated documents (to be acknowledged by all employees) about a potential allergy within the office. Don’t identify individuals by name, but detail what this means to the staff. For example, a peanut allergy may require that employees not bring certain foods into the workspace. Do this for all serious allergies.
  • Ask the individuals with serious allergies what they need from you, should there be an incident. You can document any allergy contingency plan and make sure his or her close coworkers are aware if an ambulance needs to be called.

Making sure to communicate openly with staff and new hires about these risks — and your team’s allergy preparedness plan — is important. Doing so helps keep all employees safe and comfortable while at work.