Limiting Allergies in the Workplace

To reduce workplace allergies, keep your desk space clutter-free and consider using an air filter.
To reduce workplace allergies, keep your desk space clutter-free and consider using an air filter.
© Nyulaszi

Depending on where you work, you may be exposed to hundreds of substances that can cause nasal allergies and other respiratory problems. Some of the most common on-the-job allergens that cause allergic reactions are dust mites, mold spores, cockroaches, as well as animals' dander, urine, and feces. Workers can also become sensitized to a variety of other substances that can cause an allergic reaction.

Substances That Can Cause Allergy Symptoms

Many substances found in the workplace are irritants that don't produce a true allergic reaction but trigger the same kind of symptoms as allergies. A few of the more common substances include:

  • acid anhydrides (employees in the adhesive or plastic industries)
  • aluminum dust (aluminum handlers)
  • animal proteins such as dander, urine, and feces (animal workers)
  • cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke (all workers)
  • cotton fibers (employees in cotton mills)
  • colophony (employees in metal and electronics industries)
  • cromium, cobalt (cement workers)
  • formaldehyde (those who work with carpets, fabrics, or fiberboard)
  • formalin, fluorocarbons (beauticians)
  • fumes from paints, solvents, cleaning agents, or photocopiers (all workers)
  • grain dust, grain weevils (bakers, millers, grain workers, dock workers)
  • green tea (employees in tea processing or packaging plants)
  • glues (bookbinders)
  • insecticides (pesticide workers, gardeners, fumigants)
  • latex (healthcare workers)
  • organophosphates (pesticide workers)
  • papain (employees in meat processing plants or breweries)
  • platinum salts, acids (employees in jewelry or refining industries)
  • polyvinylchloride (meat wrappers or grocers)
  • pyrethrum (employees in fumigation, insect extermination, or gardening industries)
  • reactive dyes (beauticians or textile workers)
  • toluene disocyanate (auto body spray painters)
  • trypsin (employees in drug, chemical, or plastics industries)
  • wood dust (woodworkers, builders)

What to Do About Allergy-Causing Substances at Work

If you suspect your allergy symptoms are caused by allergens at your workplace, take these actions.

  • Identify the substance that is triggering your allergies.
  • Talk with your supervisor. He or she may help you learn how to resolve the problem.
  • Keep your work area uncluttered. Piles of papers, books, and files are collection spots for dust and molds.
  • Dust regularly. Use a damp cloth to remove dust from your workspace.
  • Request that the air exchange system in your building be checked. In many cases, improving the air quality and circulation reduces symptoms.
  • Use a HEPA-type tabletop air purifier. This can help keep the air around your workstation clean.
  • Ask coworkers not to smoke around you. Cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke can aggravate your allergies. If your workplace doesn't have a no-smoking policy, talk with your supervisor or union representative about creating one or at least having smoke-free areas.
  • Talk with OSHA or your union representative. Ask about respiratory equipment such as dust masks.
  • Consider changing jobs. If you know you have an allergy to a workplace substance and you can't escape exposure to it, talk with your supervisor about a job change. Or consider another line of work.

For more information about allergies and allergy relief, see the next page.

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