Are you allergic to your workplace?

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The summer holiday season is officially over and the nation is knuckling down to work. But Allergy UK is warning that the office could actually be bad for our health.

The national charity estimates that at least 5.7 million people could be allergic to their workplace.

Allergy UK carried out research amongst office workers, primarily allergy sufferers, to establish how commonplace ‘work fever’ is.

95 per cent of those questioned had experienced one or more of the tell-tale symptoms – nasal problems, eye conditions, dry throats, breathing difficulties, lethargy, headaches and skin irritations – in the office. More than a quarter (27 per cent) said their symptoms were worsened by their office environment.

Worryingly, 62 per cent of respondents had experienced itchy or watery eyes, and 27 per cent breathing difficulties over the last year in their office.

Alarmingly, over half of the group surveyed had experienced an allergic reaction while at work.

Maureen Jenkins of Allergy UK says: “It is difficult for individuals to exercise the same control over their workplace as they would do at home. Management of allergies becomes increasingly difficult when in communal spaces, so it’s not surprising that a great deal of allergy sufferers have experienced a reaction at work.”

According to Allergy UK there are numerous ‘hotspots’ around the office that can have huge implications for allergy sufferers:

> Lack of ventilation: the majority of those with prevalent symptoms at work do not consider their office to be well ventilated. Of the overall sample, only 15 per cent said their office was well ventilated.

> Carpets: 90 per cent of office workers surveyed reported their workplace has carpeted floors, but carpets and soft furnishings can harbour house dust mite allergen.

> Bookcases: 54 per cent said they had open bookshelves, which when you remove books or items from the shelves, could disturb any dust that has collected, and can release the allergen into the atmosphere.

> Plants: 38 per cent have plants in the office which can harbour moulds. Moulds release spores and it is these spores that cause allergic reactions.

But even the people we are surrounded by in the workplace can trigger a reaction. 34 per cent of respondents had a pet allergy; and could react to allergens (pet dander) brought in on people’s clothes, especially cat allergen. 61 per cent of the office workers questioned sat within a metre of someone else, making the risk even greater.

The real area of concern is that 42 per cent of allergy sufferers took time off work because of their allergy. 14 per cent of sufferers actually took between four and ten days off sick due to their allergy, figures that could be addressed by actively minimising allergens in the workplace.