Scents in the Workplace

Exposure to scented products can adversely affect a person’s health. In high concentrations, scented products may trigger a negative response for those with allergies or chemical sensitivities.

Scents in the Workplace

What products contain scents?

When related to scents in the workplace, “scents” usually means a smell or odour from cosmetics, soaps or cleaning products. Examples of scented products includes:

  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Deodorants
  • Colognes and aftershaves
  • Fragrances and perfumes
  • Lotions
  • Soaps
  • Cosmetics
  • Air freshers and deodorizers

If a product is labeled “scent-free”, the manufacturer may have used a chemical to mask the scent. It is important to research products before using them around those who may be sensitive.
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Can scents cause health problems?

Exposure to scented products can adversely affect health. People with asthma, allergies, and respiratory conditions report that exposure to scented products, even in small amounts, can trigger a response.

Reported symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Headaches, migraines
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Skin irritation
  • Loss of appetite

The severity of these symptoms can vary from mild irritation to incapacitation. Due to these effects, some people change their routine activities to avoid exposure. Consequently, those people may experience feelings of depression or anxiety.

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What should I do if I have chemical sensitivities?

Dealing with a scent situation can be a sensitive undertaking. There is a delicate balance between expressing your concern to the individual and appearing to be confrontational.

Due to the health concerns arising from exposure to scented products, staff and visitors are asked to be considerate in their use of such products, and to be aware that they may be asked to refrain from using such products should this be required.

Scent situations can also be brought to the attention of your supervisor, Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC) representative and/or Local Safety Team (if available).

For employees:

  1. If you feel uncomfortable approaching the individual directly, speak with your supervisor.
  2. Direct them to this web page for more information. Education is the key when discussing the situation.
  3. Post a Scent Free Poster (PDF) in your building or work area.
  4. If necessary ask your supervisor to relocate you to another area until the scent is gone.
  5. If the situation persists contact RMS for further assistance.

For supervisors:

  1. Approach the individual discreetly. Explain to the individual that scented products can cause health issues for some people.
  2. Clearly and courteously explain the benefits of adopting scent-free practices. Remember most people are unaware of the negative impact scented products have on some people.
  3. Explain what the problem is and discuss how the conflict could be resolved (e.g. ask them to wear a lighter scent, or less of it).
  4. The supervisor should approach the individual to discuss how the issue could be resolved. On reaching a resolution, the supervisor should document and inform all parties of what has been agreed
  5. Post a Scent Free Poster (PDF) in your building or work area.
  6. Keep the individual with the sensitivity informed of what has been done on his/her behalf.
  7. Continue to monitor the situation until it has been resolved.

For teaching staff:

  1. Maintain a scent free environment in you classrooms and labs.
  2. If a student approaches you with a scent concern discreetly approach the individual(s) wearing the scent and inform the individual(s) of the scent sensitivities some of their classmates possess.
  3. Encourage students to wear scent-free alternatives.

For individuals who have been approached about their scented personal products:

  1. Do not take offence.
  2. Consider switching to a scent-free alternative.

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