There are times when an annoying smell is much more than that. While the average person will gag or otherwise involuntarily react when exposed to an unpleasant smell, many people are even more sensitive. Many workplaces are instituting new policies regarding smells on the job because of the way that scents can impact the health of their employees.
What Qualifies as a Scent?
Most people will agree that overwhelming cologne or body odor can be distracting and even make people gag. However, there are more subtle scents that also have an effect on workplace health. These can include:
- soaps, lotions, and moisturizers
- shampoo, conditioner, and hair-styling product
- deodorants and anti-perspirants
- colognes, perfumes, and aftershaves
- air fresheners, potpourri, and scented candles
- cleaning supplies
- air freshener
- garbage bags and other disposable plastics
- laundry detergent and fabric softener
- essential oils
People who are sensitive to scent may have a physical reaction to some or all of these products. In addition, these smells can be an annoyance or a nuisance to even the healthiest people. Some scents are believed to be carcinogens, so there may be more serious consequences later on for people who are repeatedly exposed. Reducing scent is essential to improving workplace air quality and may even improve both morale and employee health.
How Scents Affect Health
Air quality is essential to maintaining a safe and productive workplace. Scientists are only just beginning to realize all of the ways that scent in the air can impact human health. It is important to keep environments as scent-free as possible, even if none of your employees have a known sensitivity to odors. Second, it can exacerbate asthma and respiratory issues in employees who have these. An increasing amount of people have environmental sensitivities that may flare from being exposed to heavy chemical odors.
Scent can affect your workers’ health in a variety of ways. First, it can cause a reaction similar to asthma or allergies. Some of the symptoms caused by scent are predictable, such as upper respiratory issues, cough, and sneezing. However the issues caused by scent can be more serious. Many people may get dizzy, nauseated, or weak from scent. They may suffer from headaches, fatigue, or even confusion. Skin irritation such as rashes is a also a common reaction to scent. Even if none of your employees currently is sensitive to odor, there is a good chance that this will change. Because environmental sensitivity is considered a disability by most government agencies, your company will likely be expected to make accommodations.
Clearing the Air: Implementing Scent Free Policies
Many people in your workplace likely use scented products. These are all around us, from laundry soaps to lotions. However, there are ways to improve workplace air quality by reducing the amount of scent in the air. These include:
- Ban colognes, perfumes, scented lotions, and other products that exist merely to create a pleasant smell.
- Identify whether more subtle sources of smell, such as laundry detergents, are an issue for any of your employees.
- Offer scent-free wipes to employees who accidentally come in wearing scented products. This will reduce absenteeism due to a scent-free policy.
- Post a list of banned smells and enforce it strictly. It is important to post signs both in work areas as well as near all entrances to your buildings and facilities.
- Emphasize that the company is banning scent because of health concerns rather than personal preferences, to reduce employee pushback.
- If you cannot ban all smells or are uncomfortable doing so, consider implementing a particular scent-free area.
- Change the company’s cleaning products and disposable items to the scent-free version. These are available from almost all distributors for a price comparable to their scented counterparts.
- Assure employees that the policy will be reviewed and modified as needed to ensure that all workers have their needs met.
Some employees may initially protest when a policy banning certain scents is instituted. However proper training and workplace health plan is still important, many of your workers will privately thank you. Environmental sensitivities and allergies are more common than ever, but many workers are afraid to ask for common sense measures such as scent bans. You will have better indoor air quality and a generally healthy workplace with this one common sense policy change.