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Some people experience allergic reactions when they touch or inhale certain materials. Reactions can affect the eyes, skin, and/or respiratory system (nose and throat). They can range from mild to life-threatening. Employers must protect workers from exposure to potential allergens in the workplace.

The risks

Allergic reactions can result from workplace exposures such as the following:

Agriculture Animal dander
Pesticides & fumigants
Commercial laundry Subtilisin (in detergents)
Construction Dust
Isocyanates (in spray foam insulation and industrial coatings)
Organic blasting material
Solvents (in varnish and lacquer)
Health care Latex
Manufacturing Flour dust
Wood dust  
Office work Mould
Pest control Animal dander

How to reduce the risks

When there's a known allergen in the workplace, employers must control the risks.

Controls will be unique to each worksite and work environment, and include:

  1. 1

    Elimination or substitution

    Where possible, eliminating the hazard by replacing it with a safer process or material is always the most effective control. Some questions to consider:

    • Can a non-allergenic material be used?
    • Can a different process be used that generates less of the allergen?
  2. 2

    Engineering controls

    Making physical modifications to facilities, equipment, and processes is another way to reduce exposure. Some questions to consider:

    • Can ventilation be improved?
    • Can tasks that generate or expose workers to allergens be contained so exposure is reduced or eliminated?
  3. 3

    Administrative controls

    Work practices and work policies, awareness tools, and training can limit the risk of exposure to allergens. Some questions to consider:

    • Have warning signs been posted in the work area?
    • Have signs explaining exposure symptoms been posted?
  4. 4

    Personal protective equipment

    Personal protective equipment is the least effective control and should be used in combination with at least one other control. Some questions to consider:

    • Do workers have the required respirators, eyewear, and protective clothing?
    • Has personal protective equipment been tested to make sure it works properly?