Fragrances in the Workplace

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Last week we discussed how fragrances can cause health problems for some people. Fragrances found in perfumes, soaps, shampoos, cleaning products and other items can cause allergic reactions that include runny noses, sneezing, watery eyes and rashes. For others fragrances are a trigger to migraines, with some scents bring immediate and debilitating pain.

    While wearing fragrances is a personal choice, it is a choice that impacts those around us. At work, in the mall and in any other public area, we share the space around us with others. And chemicals found in perfumes and other cosmetic products can be hazardous to the health of those we come in contact with.

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    Some companies have enacted fragrance- or scent-free policies; others ask their employees to voluntarily stop wearing scented products at work. Even if an employer does not have a set policy, employees can talk to their supervisor or human resources department if they are experiencing difficulties because of a co-workers use of scented products.

    It can be difficult, if not impossible, to control fragrances in the workplace, especially if the clients, vendors and volunteers come on the premises, for example, retail stores could be impacted financially if they did not allow customers wearing any fragrances into the store. And because so many different products contain fragrances, it is hard to ask employees to replace all of their personal products with fragrance-free alternatives.

    There are some ways, however, that companies can work to control and minimize fragrances in the workplace and the negative effect on employees. The Job Accommodation Network suggests the following:

    • Examine all cleaning/maintenance products and replace with fragrance-free alternatives.
    • Check ventilation and make improvements to overall air quality, including scheduling maintenance of all ventilation systems on a regular basis to ensure peak performance.
    • Educate employees on the use of fragrances including explaining the health implications on some employees and request fragrances be reduced or eliminated.
    • Use pop-up reminders about bans on fragrances or guidelines on using scented products.
    • Post warning signs in restrooms and other areas where scented products are used or more likely to be found.
    • Post a sign on the front door requesting those who enter refrain from wearing scented products.
    • Make sure air fresheners and other scented products are kept away from the ventilation system.
    • Allow those with fragrance sensitivities to work from home or create a fragrance-free zone where they can work.
    • Use air purifiers in areas where those with sensitivities work.
    • Have fragrance-free meeting rooms and make at least some of the common areas, such as break rooms, fragrance free.

    It is hard to approach someone about their fragrance use. Many people see their choice of fragrance as an extension of their personalities and take it as a personal affront when someone insults their fragrance. If you have a problem with someone specific, try to talk to him or her, explaining that it is the fragrance, not them, that is causing you difficulty. Explain what reactions you have to the fragrance. If your co-worker is not willing to stop wearing it, talk with your supervisor.

  • References:

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    “Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees and Fragrance Sensitivity,” Updated 2013, March 13, Elisabeth Simpson, M.S., Job Accommodation Network

    “Fragrance in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know,” Date Unknown, Christy DeVader, Journal of Management and Marketing Research

Published On: July 17, 2013