Improve Workplace Air Quality with Fragrance-Free Policies

By Barbara M. Kaplan Dec 9, 2014
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Personal care products worn or used in the workplace can act as potential triggers for respiratory distress leading to acute asthma attacks and even hospitalization.

From floral-scented sunscreen to perfumed hand sanitizers and even “deodorizing” trash bags, fragrances from products used in the workplace can make for a hostile work environment, especially for employees with asthma. Considering that asthma is responsible for 14.2 million missed workdays every year, the negative effects on health care costs and productivity are clear.

As a human resources manager, you are tasked with ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. One important step toward reaching that goal is implementing a fragrance-free policy on personal care products to improve the air quality in your workplace.

Eliminating asthma-aggravating fragrances from your workplace can decrease the risk that people with asthma or allergies will suffer breathing problems while on the job. A fragrance-free policy will help clean up the indoor air for everyone at your workplace. Implementing such a policy is not difficult, provided you seek buy-in from the most important stakeholders: the employees.

To be successful in enacting your policy, Entrepreneur magazine suggests a five-step process for implementing change in the workplace of any kind.

Lay out the vision. Explain to employees in a memo the purpose of establishing a fragrance-free personal care products policy. It could read: “We are developing a fragrance-free policy to protect our employees’ health, especially those living with lung disease. Some of our employees experience breathing problems or other symptoms when exposed to fragrances in the workplace.”

Include steps to address policy violations. Ask employees to bring concerns to your attention and state that you are willing to work with them to find solutions.

Nip resistance in the bud. Be sure to deal with concerns right away so they don’t escalate into bigger issues. This may require an educational session on living with lung disease for employees who violate the newly adopted policy (e.g., requiring their participation in a straw exercise that demonstrates what it is like to breathe with asthma symptoms).

Follow up. Establish a plan to communicate the policy throughout the year. Add sample language to e-mail signatures such as “This is a fragrance-free workplace. Thank you for not wearing any of the following during your visit: cologne, aftershave lotion, perfume, perfumed hand lotion, fragranced hair products, and/or similar products. Our chemically sensitive co-workers and clients thank you.”

Be prepared to modify the policy. Solicit feedback and make adjustments to the policy as necessary. This isn’t to say that the fragrance-free policy will be eliminated, but use the feedback to identify solutions that all employees can abide by.

Getting Employees On Board

This policy change may require explaining new information to your employees. For example, they may need help understanding that going fragrance-free isn’t as simple as abstaining from that spritz of perfume in the morning; for many employees, it will require conscious changes in buying habits and preferences. No more scented fabric softener, for example.

Support and encouragement from human resources can go a long way toward ensuring the success of your new fragrance-free policy. Set clear expectations within the policy itself, and support them with a variety of communications, such as:

  • E-mails clearly communicating the policy, the date it will be implemented, and where or to whom to direct any questions.
  • Articles in employee newsletters and/or the company intranet explaining the health benefits of the policy.
  • Recognition at staff meetings for employees who support and encourage workplace wellness.

With the right communication, education and support, you’ll achieve buy-in from employees, success for the new policy and healthier air for all.

Want to draft a fragrance-free policy, but not sure where to start? Download a sample here.

Barbara M. Kaplan is the asthma education director for the American Lung Association.​

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