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The importance of allergen-free workplaces

With the exception of a few professionals, people generally expect to be safe when they’re at work. And in most instances, they are.

But there are risks to the safety of employees. And these don’t just encompass the hazards that result in accidents at work – like working at a height or with dangerous machinery.

What your workers bring in for lunch can have lasting consequences to the health of others. This is why, if you employ someone with a food allergy, you should ensure your entire workforce adheres to a set of guidelines around that food item.

Whether it’s prohibiting its presence in the workplace completely or restricting it to a certain area where the employee in question can avoid it, you should make sure everyone – from contractors to clients – knows what the rules are.

The risks of allergen exposure

According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, the country has around 2 million people who have a diagnosed food allergy, with 1-2% of adults living with one. The most common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and milk.

Exposure to an allergen can result in highly unpleasant symptoms for allergy sufferers. These include itchy rashes and hives, swelling of the affected area – such as tongue, lips and face – and vomiting. Low blood pressure, which can cause dizziness and fainting – is among the more severe symptoms.

The most severe consequence of allergen exposure is anaphylaxis. This is a serious allergic reaction, which could ultimately result in death. It can cause major consequences for sufferers of allergies. It’s rare but when it happens, it requires immediate action, such as treatment with an epinephrine injector – known as an epi pen.

Hear it from the source

One of the best ways of ensuring your teams know the importance of not bringing any known allergens into the workplace is to let them hear it from the person with the allergy. If they sit down with the person who suffers from the allergy and discuss the consequences of exposure to allergens, they will get a more personal understanding.

Instead of focusing on what they’re not allowed to bring into work, they’ll get the chance to understand exactly how their colleague’s health could be affected if they chose not to adhere to the rules your business has set out.

Encourage employees to check with the person with the allergy about plans they have for lunch and events where food will be present. Let them know what might be included and give them the chance to explain when things might not appropriate.

Have a safety net

Despite people having the best intentions, slip ups can happen. For example, someone might not have read the list of ingredients in an item of food carefully enough and unwittingly brought an allergen into the workplace. Although it was not done intentionally, this could have catastrophic consequences.

To avoid this level of harm to the person with the allergy, make sure you have enough employees trained in first aid. They’ll also have to have an adequate knowledge of what to do in the case of anaphylaxis.

You may want to introduce a plan for emergencies. This can include staying with the person suffering the reaction, calling an ambulance and administering antihistamines or the epi pen. Circulate this plan so as many people as possible know what to do. This can help ensure the best outcome.