By now, you may have heard about the Saskatchewan teen fired from her job after having an allergic reaction. I sat on the news for awhile, because, well, something doesn't sit right with me, you know? Ever the critic, I wasn't sure that the timing of her firing was just really bad (and had little to do with her reaction), and I wondered why anyone with allergies as severe as she alleges would ever leave home without an EpiPen. In any case, regardless of the small details of the case, it does bring to light a very important issue: allergy management in the workplace.
Teens are in the highest risk group for serious allergic reactions, because many feel carrying their emergency auto-epinephrine device is an inconvenience. And we all know how often teens feel invincible. It's a deadly combination, and one that employers of teens in particular need to address. But even for those adults with life-threatening allergies, proper workplace management is key to ensuring their safety.
Here are some tips for managing severe allergies in the workplace:
Disclose Your Allergies
Management and coworkers need to know you're at risk, in order to help in case of emergency, and to help you avoid your allergens in the workplace. Although disclosing allergies is, of course, not an obligation, it's a smart thing to do once you've been hired.
Carry Your Meds
Always, always, always carry an EpiPen. ALWAYS. And educate those around you on how to administer one.
Advocate For Yourself
Teach others how to help you, and other people with life-threatening allergies. Let them know the reality of living with allergies, and how they can help protect and assist others living with them, too.
Know where you can safely eat, and understand the risks involved. Obviously if you're allergic to peanuts, a job at a Thai restaurant is out of the question. You're your best protector, so remember it is YOUR job to protect yourself first.
Ask questions of staff who disclose severe allergies. Find out how you can help protect them, and what coworkers need to do to make the workplace a safer one.
Employers must accommodate those with severe allergies by law. This includes all types of allergies (scents, foods, environmental, etc) as well as asthma. Being aware of your responsibilities as an employer will help you handle daily employee needs, as well as emergency situations.
Educate Your Staff
Hold meetings to inform staff of the severity of allergies, and what they are obligated to do to assist in keeping their coworker(s) safe.
As always, when dealing with severe allergies, a little compassion goes a long way.
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