Making work safe for people with allergies

For people with allergies, entering the workplace for the first time or starting a new job can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Working in an environment where steps are not being taken to minimise the risk of an allergic reaction might not be safe.

In the UK, 1-2% of adults have allergies and intolerances. It’s important for employers and employees to work together to create a safe working environment for staff, volunteers and contractors, whether your work place is an office, healthcare environment, in retail or outdoors.

Advice for employers

If someone on your team has serious allergies, there are steps you can take to make the environment safe and learn what to do in an emergency.

Creating a working environment where employees can safely do their jobs is part of an employer’s Duty of Care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Carrying out a workplace risk assessment and developing an allergy management guide can help you support your employees with allergies. Visit HSE for more information on workplace risk assessments.

What employers can do:
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Be aware of your employees with allergies.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Create a safe area for employees to store their food, offer safe snacks if you provide food and make outside caterers aware of employees with food allergies.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Make sure that employees are aware of the impact of “pranks” on employees who have allergies.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Provide a space to hang coats and jackets away from the main working area, as these can carry dust and pet hair.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Ensure some employees are first aid trained and know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Keep the workplace properly ventilated, but if an employee has hay fever, keep the windows closed early morning and late afternoon when the pollen count is highest.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Offer training sessions to all employees to improve their knowledge and understanding of allergies and anaphylaxis. Have a look at our AllergyWise e-learning course.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon If there are plants in the workplace, make sure they are regularly watered and the top soil is removed so that mould can’t grow.

Advice for employees

We recommend speaking with your employer about your allergies upon acceptance of the role so that they can carry out a workplace risk assessment and create a safer working environment for you.

Here are a few other tips to help keep yourself safe in the workplace.

What employees can do:
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Give your colleagues specific information about your allergies, including how serious they are and how to recognise the signs of an allergic reaction.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Let them know how they can help prevent allergic reactions and how they can help you manage your allergies, such as consulting you before they plan a lunch or event where food will be involved.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Give your employer consent to share your allergy information with the wider workforce.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Ask colleagues to label all food that they bring into the workplace and to not eat allergens in your workspace.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Tell colleagues where you keep your medication and your adrenaline auto injectors (AAI) and what to do in the event of an emergency.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Speak to your employers to make sure your workspace is regularly cleared and cleaned, so that it is not harbouring any dust or allergens that you may react to.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Make an Allergy Action Plan so your colleagues know what to do in an emergency.

Download our Managing Allergens in the Workplace booklet

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Allergies at work FAQs

  • When should I tell a new employer about my allergy?

    Unless your allergy may directly impact the role, you do not need to mention your allergy during your interview. We recommend letting your employer know when you accept the role to give them an opportunity to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment before you start.

    ACAS states: ‘Where the employee is allergic to a product used in the workplace the employer should consider remedial action or a transfer to alternative work’.

  • How can the risk from allergens be reduced in the workplace?

    Dust Mites: Make sure the carpets are cleaned often and work areas are dusted with a microfibre cloth.
    Animal allergens: Pet hair is often carried on clothing. If possible, hang coats away from the work station.
    Cleaning fluids and air fresheners: These release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. Avoid plug-ins and aerosol air fresheners and switch to cleaning products with no VOCs.

  • How should I tell my colleagues about my allergy?

    If you have an allergy, it’s up to you whether you tell your colleagues, however we recommend that you or your employer make those who work closely with you aware. We recommend having a conversation to discuss your allergy, the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, and what to do if you have an allergic reaction.

  • Should we implement a ‘nut ban’ in the workplace?

    We don’t typically recommend a ‘nut ban’ because they are incredibly difficult to enforce, and research suggests they don’t result in fewer allergic reactions. We recommended creating an allergy-aware workplace.

  • Are food allergies a choice?

    No, they are not a preference or lifestyle choice. When an individual is allergic to a food, eating that food or even accidental contact with it may cause an allergic reaction. Reactions vary in their severity, but the most serious are life threatening.

  • Should we ban employees eating at desks?

    We don’t typically support ‘bans’. In many workplaces, it’s common for employees to eat at their desk and a ban would be very difficult to enforce, however for people who sit next to colleagues with allergies it’s important to have an understanding of cross-contamination.

    It may also not be appropriate for an employee with allergies to ‘hot desk’.

  • Is hand sanitiser as effective as washing hands?

    No. Washing your hands is proven to remove more allergens that using antibacterial hand sanitisers

Allergy action plan for adults

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Get wise with AllergyWise

AllergyWise is the easiest way to learn about anaphylaxis, the risks of serious allergies and how to manage them. You can learn from your home or at university, wherever and whenever it suits you.

Our AllergyWise courses are the perfect way to learn how to manage living with allergies in day-to-day life. You’ll also learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of a serious allergic reaction and know what to do in an emergency.