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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 exposure to common allergens in these areas:

Agriculture Animal dander
Pesticides & fumigants
Commercial laundry Subtilisin (in detergents)
Construction Dust
Isocyanates (in spray foam insulation and industrial coatings)
Solvents (in varnish and lacquer)

Health care Latex (in gloves, dental dams, and tourniquets)

Solvents (in varnish and lacquer)
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 hazards to eliminate or reduce the risk.

An exposure control plan (ECP) is the most effective way of reducing risks. It is the outcome of looking at your risks and controls. There are four main ways to reduce risk. Part of the ECP, they are known as controls. These will be unique to each worksite and work environment. They 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?
    • Is it possible to use a process 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

    Changing 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. So, it must always 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?