In recent years there has been an increase in food allergies across the UK. The Food Standards Agency estimates that there are around 2 million people in the UK that have been diagnosed with one. With food allergies on the rise, employers are more likely to encounter individuals amongst the workforce with some variety of food allergen, so it is important that HR departments are clued up on how to reduce the risks of triggering an allergic reaction in the workplace.
This is particularly important when you consider that some food allergies can be life threatening. Even foods that people have previously had only a mild reaction to can in the future become much more serious. This article will look at how best to manage the risks associated with both mild and more serious food allergies in the workplace.
Combating food allergies
To help combat any food allergies in the workplace, you should make sure that allergen information is made available in the cafeteria and that there are good procedures in place such as ensuring that all plates and cutlery is cleaned thoroughly and surfaces are wiped down regularly with disinfectant. Employees should be discouraged from eating at their desks in case there is someone with a food allergy nearby.
When using cleaning products, it is important to be aware that there are certain products that people with environmental allergies such as asthma or certain medical conditions should avoid. Opting for less harsh or organic cleaning products can help minimise the risk for individuals with these allergies.
You should also consider food allergies when organising work functions and events, making sure that you avoid serving snacks such as peanuts at a work function, and you avoid restaurants that serve Asian food for nut allergies or seafood restaurants for those with shellfish allergies.
It is a good idea to carry out a risk assessment for all employees with a diagnosed food allergy. You should work with the employee to find out how best to manage their allergy in the workplace as they are likely to be clued up on how to minimise the risks of an attack. In addition, all first aiders should be trained in responding to allergic reactions.
Managing the threat of anaphylaxis
More serious food allergies have the potential to trigger life-threatening anaphylaxis, people with allergies to bee venom or latex are also at risk. In any case, any workplace with employees at risk need to take measures to minimise the exposure to any of the allergens concerned.
Latex is found in a variety of consumer products including handbags, balloons, rubber bands, athletic shoes, tools and tires as well as baby products such as rubber toys, pacifiers and milk bottles. It is also commonly found in medical and dental supplies. The most common latex containing medical products in a non-medical workplace are dressings, bandages and disposable gloves.
If you have an employee with a latex allergy, it is vital you take an inventory of all the products in the workplace that could trigger their symptoms, make sure they are kept well out of the way from any affected employees and aim for non-latex alternatives if possible. Be mindful that blowing up a balloon and using latex containing rubber gloves can trigger an allergy.
First aiders and other colleagues should receive training in recognising the signs of anaphylaxis and the relevant emergency first aid procedures. In the event of an emergency, trained staff should know how to administer an EpiPen or Anapen which is an auto-injector. Employees that have been diagnosed with life-threatening allergies should carry one of these with them at all times, but staff should be trained in the instance that the patient is not able to self-administer. An ambulance should always be called at the first signs of anaphylaxis.