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1 Chemical Sensitivities in the Workplace Tracie D. Saab, M.S. Job Accommodation Network A service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy U.S. Department.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Chemical Sensitivities in the Workplace Tracie D. Saab, M.S. Job Accommodation Network A service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy U.S. Department."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Chemical Sensitivities in the Workplace Tracie D. Saab, M.S. Job Accommodation Network A service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy U.S. Department of Labor

2 2 Agenda Chemical Sensitivities in the Workplace Understanding the Challenge Chemical Sensitivity and the ADA Definition of Disability Accommodating Employees with Chemical Sensitivity

3 3 What is Chemical Sensitivity (CS)? Inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of chemicals Intolerance to even very low level exposure to chemicals Symptoms occur in more than one organ system The problem is ongoing The same symptoms are reproducible with repeated exposure to the same triggers Avoidance is key

4 4 Triggers and Symptoms Breathing difficulty Headaches/Migraines Nausea Difficulty concentrating and remembering Fatigue Tightening of the throat Dizziness Skin Irritation Arthritis-like sensations and muscle pain Fragrances Cleaning agents New carpet/furnishings Paint Air Fresheners/Deodorizers Pesticides Floor Wax Office machines Smoke Poor indoor air quality (IAQ)

5 5 General Statistics What about JAN cases? Approx 3% of cases indicating functional limitation March Chemical Sensitivity 695 Fragrance specific *13 – 16% of the general population Women and men; women more frequently Variety of ages and educational levels *American Journal of Public Health, 2004

6 6 Chemical Sensitivity and the ADA ADA = No list of covered medical impairments Does the employee have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities? Substantially limited if: unable to perform, or is significantly limited in the ability to perform, an activity compared to an average person in the general population

7 7 Chemical Sensitivity and the ADA Ultimately, employer decides Request medical documentation Specific job-related medical questions State law For more information… Consultants' Corner Volume 02, Issue 04 EEOC Definition of the Term Disability EEOC Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation EEOC Medical Exams and Inquiries of Employees All documents available at

8 8 Accommodating Employees with Chemical Sensitivity What limitations is the employee experiencing? How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee's job performance? What accommodations are available?

9 9 Difficulty working in poor indoor air quality Maintain a dry work environment Pre-notification of events such as pesticide applications, floor waxing, and carpet shampooing Alternative work arrangements Mask or personal air supply/cleaner Air quality testing; industrial hygiene professional Maintain filtration systems Air cleaning systems Work environment free of known pollutants

10 10 Difficulty working in old/new building Time for off-gassing of new products Air cleaning systems suitable for fumes and increase air flow/air exchanges per room Non-toxic carpeting or alternative floor covering (e.g., tile, cork, wool) Pre-notification Alternative work arrangements Schedule remodeling activities when building is not occupied Non-toxic or green building materials, furnishings, and supplies

11 11 Difficulty with cleaning agents and deodorizers Non-toxic, natural, non- fragranced cleaning products (e.g., baking soda, vinegar, etc.) JANs SOAR site Schedule cleaning activities when building is not occupied Ask the employee for suggestions. What do you use at home? Discontinue use of spray deodorizers, scented candles, automatic scent dispensers, etc. and opt for non-scented odor neutralizers

12 12 CAUTION, WARNING, and DANGER…OH MY Common Air Sanitizer CAUTION: Avoid contact with food … Avoid contact with eyes. Before using product throughout your home, use in one room and wait 24 hours to ensure that no one has any physical reactions to the product. Asthma and Allergy Sufferers: Consult your physician before using the product in your home.

13 13 CAUTION, WARNING, and DANGER…OH MY Common Household Cleaner (w/bleach) WARNING: Eye and skin irritant. Vapors may irritate. Harmful if swallowed. Do not get in eyes or on clothing. For sensitive skin or prolonged use, wear gloves. Avoid prolonged breathing of vapors. Use only in well ventilated areas. Not recommended for use by persons with heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema, or obstructive lung disease….This product contains bleach. Do not mix this product with other household chemicals (e.g., ammonia, toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers or acid) as this releases hazardous gases…

14 14 What is the most common sensitivity JAN hears about?

15 15 Difficulty working around fragrances Discontinue using fragranced products at work (e.g., deodorizers, candles, etc.) Modify workstation location (e.g., sit near cooperative coworkers) Modify work schedule Air purification, fan, mask, or personal air supply Modify communication methods Alternative work arrangements Implement a fragrance policy…

16 16 Fragrance Policies and the ADA Not official position of EEOC, but …banning fragrances would probably not be considered a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA…I would encourage employers to explore other ways to assist (this) employee. Not precluded from implementing a policy or making a request Practical problem in enforcing a ban; intrusion into personal issues of hygiene and grooming

17 17 Policy Examples the Board requests that all participants refrain from wearing perfume, cologne and other fragrances, and use unscented personal care products in order to promote a fragrance- free environment. Cecil College strives to maintain an environment comfortable for all. As a courtesy to College employees and fellow students who express sensitivity to fragrances, the College requests students and staff to please refrain from wearing scented products on campus.

18 18 Thank you for attending! Tracie D. Saab Web cast questions: TTY A service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy


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