If you’ve ever ridden an elevator with a woman who has drenched herself in perfume or a man who seems to have poured his aftershave out of a pitcher, you know scents can be overwhelming. If you are sensitive to odors, the ride could leave you feeling quite ill. There are other sources of odors in the workplace such as cleaning products or air fresheners that can cause adverse symptoms. Many organizations have adopted fragrance-free workplace policies to deal with this problem.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety says that scented products can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, upper respiratory symptoms and skin irritations. People who are highly allergic or those who have asthma can become quite ill from exposure to even a slight odor. Including hair spray, shampoo, perfume, scented soaps, cologne, aftershave, industrial chemicals, air fresheners, oils, candles, and potpourri, the list of scented items that may be found in the workplace is nearly endless.
Scents in the Workplace
A scent-free policy should take into account the multiple sources of odors. The policy should apply throughout the organization, and visitors as well as employees must be informed of the expectations. Employees who repeatedly violate the policy should be subjected to the same sort of disciplinary action that any policy breach would entail. The organization should post a list of acceptable cleaning products, air fresheners or deodorizers. If employees are highly sensitive, they should be notified at least one week prior to activities such as painting, shampooing carpets or buffing floors so they can be assigned to other areas or have their duties modified.
Many organizations have developed fragrance-free or scent-free policies to protect their employees and visitors. Hospitals may have such policies to protect patients with respiratory disease, just as they prohibit smoking for similar reasons. In Canada, environmental sensitivity to fragrances is considered a medical condition, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. Employers are expected to make reasonable accommodation for employees who suffer from this problem just as they would for someone with a physical disability.
Hospitals have some special considerations in regard to fragrance-free workplace policies because they must consider the patients and visitors as well as employees. Patient rooms and the adjoining hallways must be cleaned daily to prevent the spread of infection. The products used in the hospital need to be both scent-free and effective for cleaning. Some hospitals even ask that visitors not wear perfume or aftershave when visiting. Some even ask visitors not to bring scented flowers into patient-care areas.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.