Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!

Episode #: 148: Accommodating Scent Sensitivities in the Workplace


Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Host: Thanks for joining us. In today’s episode we’re talking about scent sensitivities in the workplace and what employers can do to accommodate scent sensitives in the workplace.

They 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 to one another. Promote the “arm’s length” rule: that no scent should be detectable at more than an arm’s length from the individual.

One of the best ways to prevent reactions to fragrances is to avoid exposure to them, although this can be 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 but may contain a trace amount of fragrance 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.


How you can accommodate scent sensitivities in the workplace

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 the 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 that fragrances can aggravate or cause health issues for people with sensitivities or 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.


For more information about scents in the workplace and how to implement a scent-free policy, visit www.ccohs.ca and search on “scent free”. Thanks for listening everyone.