Running Your Business

How to Identify and Reduce Allergens in the Workplace


  • Employers are legally required to make accommodations for allergic and asthmatic employees, per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)


  • To avoid potential allergic reactions, learn what most common irritants are, and either limit access to them or ban them completely


  • Plants, animals, dust and foods are just a few of the common allergens in the workplace that should be considered


Posted by March 12, 2019

Within any office, there’s likely to be a population of workers who deal with allergies. They want to come to work and be comfortable, but they may be suffering in silence—or feel anxious about being exposed to allergens in the workplace.

You want to provide your team members with a healthy atmosphere to do their jobs, so it’s important to learn what the most common allergens are and how to protect your colleagues from coming into contact with them. In addition to wanting to create a comfortable environment for staff, employers are also legally required to make accommodations for their employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To avoid potentially harmful allergic reactions in the office, it’s a good idea to first identify the most common irritants in your workspace, and then take steps to either reduce your fellow employees’ potential contact or ban them completely.

Here are the four most common allergens in the average American workplace. Keep an eye out for these, and make whatever accommodations you can to ensure your colleagues’ time at the office is safe and productive.

1. Flowers and Plants

While flowers are beautiful and some plants help to purify the air, both types of flora have the potential to cause serious allergic reactions. If you want to buy blooms to spruce up your workspace, do your research on which types of flowers and plants produce the least amount of pollen (such as hydrangeas, orchids and hostas). Additionally, consider creating a list that details the flowers and plants that other employees are allowed to bring in.

If the low-pollen greenery agitates someone’s allergies, consider removing the plants from the office completely or relocating them somewhere that employee doesn’t frequent.

2. Dust

The first (and easiest) way to manage dust allergens is to hire a cleaning company to do regular office-wide cleanings. Consistent carpet vacuuming and cleaning is helpful in reducing allergens in the workplace, especially when it comes to dust. However, since dust can often get trapped in hidden places—like blinds, around computer hardware and in light fixtures—be sure the cleaners tackle dust-prone spots regularly.

Another investment that may be helpful is installing a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your HVAC system, which will help to clean the air in specific areas. Try to station employees with allergies near one of these so they can have the best working environment possible.

3. Food

Food is another serious allergen in the workplace that often gets overlooked. This is especially true for smaller businesses that don’t provide meals, but allow for occasional potlucks or catering. While eating with colleagues is one way to build healthy work relationships, individuals with food allergies could get majorly ill.

To prevent any dietary issues, find out if anyone has allergies before ordering food for your office or coordinating a potluck. The eight most allergenic foods are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. With potlucks, have contributing employees list the ingredients on a card that’s kept with the food.

4. Animals

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that, “In the United States, as many as three in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.” So if you’ve considered making your office a pet-friendly workplace, you may want to think again.

While the trend of bringing furry friends to work has its perks, it also has the potential to wreak havoc on employees with allergies. If you have coworkers who are allergic to animals, consider placing lint rollers in strategic areas around the office (like the break room) for communal use. It may even be necessary to rearrange workspaces so that people with allergies are separate from pet owners.

By taking small steps to avoid allergens in the workplace, your colleagues can feel more comfortable coming to work every day. But remember, these aren’t the only irritants that may exacerbate someone’s allergies or asthma! Make an effort to find out what allergens your fellow employees have, and follow up by reassuring them that making the workplace healthy and safe for everyone is priority No. 1.

Are you searching for resources that could help improve your organization’s workplace? Check out the tools and information offered on United Concordia Dental’s website.

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