Allergies and the Workplace: Your Job May Be the Last Place You Need to Be

People with allergies usually take precautions to avoid places that might worsen their condition. For instance, someone with hay fever probably won’t go to too many flower shows. But what about work? For many people with allergies, work can be the single worst place to be. The problem, of course, is that often you have no choice.

Allergies come in many forms and often what a person is allergic to is present in places where you might not expect them to be. If you do have an allergic conditions, take time to look around any worksite or potential worksite to scope out potential problems. What kind of potential problems exist for those with allergies?

Hospitals and other health care services should obviously be a concern to anyone suffering from allergies. Only not for the reason you might expect. It’s not really the germs and infections that someone with allergies needs to be concerned with; it’s the latex gloves. Especially powdered latex gloves. The ones that use powder can released over 15,000 times more allergens into the work area than unpowdered gloves. Lest you think you won’t be in trouble because you’re not working in a medical area, be aware that in a hospital especially many non-medical jobs require workers to wear latex gloves, including cafeteria workers. Although a tremendous effort to move away form powdered latex gloves has taken place, they are still around in abundance.

If you’ve just landed a job at a food processing factory and you suffer from allergies, you just may be making things worse. There are so many potential allergens at play in food processing plants that it would take an entire article just to list them. And that’s not even including the number of factories that use peanut products. Remember, an allergy to peanuts can actually be fatal; this isn’t just some casual health concern. And since so many products use peanuts, it’s not enough to stay away from a job at Planter’s or M&Ms. If you do suffer from an allergy to peanuts, be very careful in looking for a job in the food industry in any capacity.

The American farming industry is hardly a shell of what it used to be, but there are still occasions when you might find yourself getting a job there. An allergic condition and life on the farm just doesn’t mix. Grain and hay release tremendous amounts of allergens into the air and can make the job positively unbearable. In addition to farms, working on a dock or in any textile mill is a potential no-no. Besides the allergen, there are also dust mites to consider, which can cause skin problems and rashes.

Speaking of mites, anyone with allergies would do well to stay away from working with animals. Whether it’s a vet’s office or a laboratory, animals tend to urinate wherever they feel like and that little substance becomes an airborne allergen the minute it dries. You don’t have to actually touch the urine to find your allergies exacerbated because some animal couldn’t hold it in. It’s not just the big animals you’ve got to worry about either. Most insects and arachnids are also big time allergen carriers. Why would this be a concern on the job? Because these little pests are often used as natural pesticides, killing off those little unseen mites.

So what if you’ve got no choice but to work somewhere that makes your allergies worse? What do you do then? The first thing you’ll want to do is either get our or request the health & safety rules that are in place. Follow these to the letter. If you’re supposed to wash your hands before or after doing something or going somewhere, then by all means wash your hands. Secondly, if you are required or just allowed to wear a protective mask, then do so. If the job requires the use of latex gloves, demand the unpowdered kind. If there’s an overhead fan that is never turned on, ask why and if it’s okay make sure it’s always turned on when you’re working.

The fact is that most big businesses don’t go out of their way to protect people with allergies. In fact, many companies not only routinely ignore OSHA safety regulations, they spend big money lobbying Congressmen and Senators to get those regulations relaxed. As a worker, you are far more expendable than a piece of expensive equipment. To put it bluntly: In many-though certainly not all-cases you are on your own when it comes to protecting yourself and your allergies while on the job. The best thing to do is check out the workplace before you get hired and determine whether the risk is acceptable.

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