In addition to the seasonal pollen-inspired sneezing and runny eyes you’ll see among your employees beginning this time of year, sometimes those pollens or other irritants can do more serious damage, like generating a full-blown asthma attack.
“Millions of people suffer from allergies caused by everyday exposures to agents such as dust mites, cat dander, and pollens. Agents encountered by workers can also cause allergic problems such as asthma, nasal and sinus allergies, hives, and even severe anaphylactic reactions. Examples of these work-related agents include animal proteins, enzymes, flour, natural rubber latex, and certain reactive chemicals. Asthma is one of the more serious problems that can be caused by work-related allergy. It can cause recurrent attacks of symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. In severe cases, these symptoms can be disabling. Fortunately, when potential hazards are recognized, work-related allergies and asthma can often be prevented or their effects minimized.”
OSHA offers several resources for various types of allergies that can occur in the workplace. Today we’ll focus on two common culprits: mold and latex.
- Although “There are no federal standards or recommendations, (e.g., OSHA, NIOSH, EPA) for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores,” OSHA does offer some tips on preventing mold growth both at home and in the workplace:
- Repairing plumbing leaks and leaks in the building structure as soon as possible.
- Looking for condensation and wet spots. Fix source(s) of moisture incursion problem(s) as soon as possible.
- Preventing moisture from condensing by increasing surface temperature or reducing the moisture level in the air (humidity). To increase surface temperature, insulate or increase air circulation. To reduce the moisture level in the air, repair leaks, increase ventilation (if outside air is cold and dry), or dehumidify (if outdoor air is warm and humid).
- Keeping HVAC drip pans clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed.
- Performing regularly scheduled building/ HVAC inspections and maintenance, including filter changes.
- Maintaining indoor relative humidity below 70% (25 - 60%, if possible).
- Venting moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, to the outside where possible.
- Venting kitchens (cooking areas) and bathrooms according to local code requirements.
- Cleaning and drying wet or damp spots as soon as possible, but no more than 48 hours after discovery.
- Providing adequate drainage around buildings and sloping the ground away from building foundations. Follow all local building codes.
- Pinpointing areas where leaks have occurred, identifying the causes, and taking preventive action to ensure that they do not reoccur.
For more on mold growth and prevention, and how to keep workers on clean up duty safe, click here.
As OSHA explains,
“Allergy to latex was first recognized in the late 1970s. Since then, it has become a major health concern as an increased number of people in the workplace are affected. Health care workers exposed to latex gloves or medical products containing latex are especially at risk. It is estimated that 8-12% of health care workers are latex sensitive. Between 1988-1992, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) received more than 1,000 reports of adverse health effects from exposure to latex, including 15 deaths due to such exposure.”
Employers covered under this standard (29 CFR 1910.1030, Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens) must provide and make accessible hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners, powderless gloves, or other similar alternatives to those employees allergic to the type of gloves normally provided [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(3)(iii)].
For more on protecting workers from latex exposure, download the NIOSH Latex Allergy and Prevention Guide here.
What to do when a severe allergic reaction occurs
A severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, is an extreme response of the body’s immune system to something it is very sensitive to. When anaphylaxis occurs, the airway becomes constricted due to swelling of the throat, making it difficult to breathe. Wheezing may be heard. Swelling of the lips, eyelids, and face may occur. Itchy, raised lumps, or hives, can appear on the face and chest. The person may complain of nausea and abdominal cramping.
A reaction can develop rapidly. In general, the faster the reaction occurs, the more severe it is. Without treatment, death can occur within 15 minutes.
Activate EMS. Allow the person to find the most comfortable position in which to breathe. Loosen any tight clothing. Calm, comfort, and reassure the person.
A person with a history of allergic reactions may carry a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector. Epinephrine can quickly reverse the effects of the reaction and may be life saving. If the person has an auto-injector available, assist the person in using it on herself.
For more on the use of epinephrine auto-injector or EpiPens and to see a video clip about their use, see our blog from April 5, 2014 here.
A second dose of epinephrine should not be routinely administered. However, when professional medical assistance is not available, a second dose may be given if symptoms persist.
Reassess regularly until another provider or EMS personnel takes over.
Need help implementing an environmental, health, and safety program at your organization? Give our experts at Summit Training Source a call at 800.842.0466 and we’ll help you get that plan in place!