Safety Tips Office safety

Is your office ‘scent free’?

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From air fresheners, soaps and lotions to cleaning products, perfumes, colognes and deodorants, scents are often in the air at work. Although some people don’t mind the smell, the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety cautions that exposure to the ingredients or chemicals in scented products may lead other workers to experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath, as well as difficulty concentrating. So, is it time for your office to consider a “scent-free” policy?

Time for a policy?

Although an exact definition of “scent free” doesn’t exist, CCOHS points out that some products labeled “unscented” may in fact contain ingredients used to make or hide the smell of other ingredients. However, “the terms ‘fragrance free’ or ‘unscented’ may be added by notification if the product is odorless or nearly odorless, and contains no odor-masking ingredients such as a perfume,” CCOHS states.

If employees have expressed concerns about certain scents at work, it may be time to consider implementing a “scent-free” policy. CCOHS offers a number of tips:

  • Conduct an employee survey to help determine the extent of the issue.
  • Create a committee to review the survey results and decide whether to move forward on a policy. If the committee finds a policy is needed, create a deadline schedule for drafting, reviewing and implementing it.
  • Educate workers on the policy via brochures, a presentation or publishing it in a company newsletter. All workers should be fully informed about the policy and what is and isn’t allowed.
  • Address employee concerns. “Reinforce the idea that this policy is being implemented as a result of medical concerns – not merely because of a dislike for a certain smell,” CCOHS states.
  • Make it known that the policy applies to everyone in the office, including visitors. Consider placing the policy statement on appointment cards, stationery, room-booking notices and employment postings.
  • Clearly state what an employee may be asked to do if he or she is wearing a scent. For example, the worker may be asked to wash off the scent, change clothes or remain in a separate room.
  • Ensure cleaning staff know the policy, and provide these workers with fragrance-free products.
  • Post a list of approved unscented products.
  • Regularly review and modify the policy.

CCOHS also suggests posting a notice a week beforehand if scented products need to be used at work because of construction, painting or spraying. This way, affected workers can make arrangements or have their duties modified.

For more information, including a policy sample, visit ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/scent_free.html.

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