Scents and Sensitivities in the Workplace

It can confuse the senses: shampoo that smells like green apples; clean laundry
freshness that mimics fields of wildflowers; and underarm deodorant packed with
the fragrance of an ocean breeze. Although they may smell pleasant, for your
coworkers with sensitivities to scent, the fragrances found in countless
products including soaps, detergents, personal care products, and household
cleaners, may come with unpleasant health effects.

For people with fragrance sensitivities, the chemicals in fragrances can cause
irritation or trigger allergic reactions. Depending on how sensitive they are,
they may experience symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, itchy skin,
hives, itchy eyes and nose, runny nose, wheezing, coughing, sore throat,
breathing difficulties, and/or asthma. Reactions to fragrances can vary from
one person to the next, however once a person has developed fragrance
sensitivity, it may continue to get worse over time and with repeated exposure.

The person wearing scents can be affected by them as well as anyone they come
into contact with. This can create a challenge in the workplace where people
interact or sit in close proximity of one another. Promote the "arm's length"
rule: that no scent should be detectable at more than an arm's length from the

One of the best ways to prevent reactions to fragrances is to avoid exposure to
them, although this is difficult to do with the number of chemical fragrances
contained in the products we use every day. Look for products labelled "perfume
free" or "fragrance free", which are the most likely to contain no fragrances.
An "unscented" product may not have a detectable scent however it may contain a
trace amount of fragrance added to the product to mask scent. Fragrances added
to products are not always labelled as ingredients; fragrance formulas are
often well guarded trade secrets which companies prefer not to share.

When fragrance chemicals are suspected to be affecting someone's health, follow
these steps to clear the air of scents:

  • Adopt a scent-free or scent-reduced policy in your workplace.

  • Post a sign at the entranceways of your workplace to remind visitors and employees that the building or office is "scent-free", or to be aware thatfragrances can aggravate or cause health issues for people with sensitivitiesor other health conditions.

  • Encourage all employees to use scent-free products and wherever possible, choose scent-free products for the workplace.

  • Reduce emissions from building materials, cleaning products and other sources of fragrances if possible.

  • Maintain good indoor air quality (ventilation) to prevent scents from being spread throughout the building.

  • When all else fails, consider relocating the workstations of highly sensitized people to minimize their exposure to the offending scents.

You should inform your employees about the issue of scents sensitivities and
help them understand how fragrances can impact the health of their coworkers.
Ask for their assistance in maintaining a fragrance-free workplace - so that
all may be able to breathe easy.

Further Information - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety