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A scent sensitive workplace

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Background

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) affirms its commitment to providing a safe & inclusive environment for all employees, and to accommodating persons with disabilities in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and Commission’s Disability Policy. Some Commission staff report sensitivities to various chemical-based or scented products. In response to such health concerns, the Commission has developed these guidelines. The Commission asks for everyone's cooperation in its efforts to accommodate these health concerns in accordance with the provisions of Ontario Human Rights Code.

Policy: A scent sensitive work place

Due to the health concerns arising from exposure to scented products – see below for examples - staff and visitors are asked to be considerate in their use of such products when reporting to this office, and to be aware that they may be asked to refrain from using such products should this be required.

Can scents cause health problems?

Allergic and asthmatic patients report that certain odours, even in the smallest amounts, can trigger an attack. In addition, those persons with "multiple chemical sensitivity" may also be affected. The severity of symptoms can vary. Some people report mild irritation while others may be very severely affected and/or must give up 'normal' activities in order to avoid exposure to certain odours.

When scented products have been blamed for adversely affecting a person's health, some or all of the following symptoms may be reported:

headaches

loss of appetite

depression

dizziness

upper respiratory symptoms

anxiety

light-headedness

shortness of breath

nausea

weakness

difficulty with concentration

fatigue

malaise

skin irritation

numbness

confusion

insomnia

 

What types of products contain scents?

Scents are included in a very large range of products including:

shampoo & conditioners

potpourri

fragrances & perfumes

lotions & creams

soaps

colognes & aftershaves

deodorants

oils

air fresheners & deodorizers

hair sprays

candles

industrial & household chemicals

cosmetics

cleaning products

 

It is important to remember some products which claim to be 'scent free' may have only masked the scent by use of an additional chemical.

Raising awareness of scent sensitivities

  • Staff will be informed of this policy through email, Branch/area meetings, signs posted in buildings and materials posted on the shared ‘N’ drive.
  • Visitors will be informed of this policy through signs. Meeting hosts are asked to explain the policy further if needed.
  • This policy can be reviewed and changed because of experience or new knowledge.

What should I do if I have a multiple chemical sensitivities?

  • If you are suffering from the effects of odours in the workplace, try, if possible, to identify the source of the problem.
  • Discuss your sensitivity with your manager, so that he / she is aware of the issues.

If the issue is a general office or building issue

  • Discuss this with your manager. Your manager should then inform the JHSC in writing so the issue can be followed up with building management or otherwise as appropriate.
  • Wherever possible, the Commission will give one week’s advance notice of activities as carpet cleaning, spring-cleaning, painting etc. When you receive such notices, discuss with your Manager how / if this may affect you and, if needed, make arrangements to be accommodated during this activity.
  • While you need not alert your manager every time there is a notice of general office cleaning, it may be helpful to remind them of the previous accommodation so that arrangements can be made on a timely basis.

If the source is another employee

  • If you feel comfortable approaching the individual then you should do so. Explain what the problem is and discuss how the conflict could be resolved, e.g. by asking them to wear a lighter scent, or less of it.
  • If you do not feel comfortable approaching the individual, or if they do not respond well to your request, discuss the situation with your manager to identify how the conflict could be resolved.
  • The manager should approach the individual to discuss how the issue could be resolved. On reaching a resolution, the manager should document and inform all parties of what has been agreed.
  • If the individual does not adjust their behaviour they will be in violation of this policy and the manager should handle this through the standard disciplinary procedures.

What should I do if I am approached by someone with a multiple chemical sensitivity?

  • Employees should consider all accommodation requests with dignity & respect, and in good faith.
  • Discuss the issues with the individual to identify how the issue may be resolved.
  • If you are unable to accommodate the request and/or you feel uncomfortable discussing this with the individual, explain this and then speak to your manager.

The responsibilities of the manager and JHSC

  • Managers and the JHSC are required to follow up concerns and take any necessary action in a timely manner.

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