- What is the issue?
- What is this article intended to do?
- What is the University doing about it?
- What can you do to help?
- What can the supervisor do?
- What to do if you are approached about the scent product you are wearing
What is the issue?
There has been increasing awareness at the University that exposure to perfumes and other scented products can trigger serious health reactions in individuals with asthma, allergies, migraines, or chemical sensitivities.
Fragrances are found in a wide range of products. Common scented products include perfume, cologne, aftershave, deodorant, soap, shampoo, hairspray, bodyspray, makeup and powders. Examples of other products with added scents include air fresheners, fabric softeners, laundry detergents, cleaners, carpet deodorizers, facial tissues, and candles.
We generally think that it is a personal choice to use fragrances; however, fragrance chemicals are by their very nature shared. The chemicals vapourize into the air and are easily inhaled by those around us. Today’s scented products are made up of a complex mixture of chemicals, many of which are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum products. These fragrance chemicals, classified as volatile organic compounds, can contribute to indoor air quality problems and cause health problems.
Susceptible individuals can experience a variety of symptoms, including headache, sore throat, runny nose, sinus congestion, wheezing, shortness of breath, dizziness, anxiety, anger, nausea, fatigue, mental confusion and an inability to concentrate. Some of these fragrance chemicals are known to be skin sensitizers. Some are also respiratory tract irritants, and can trigger asthma and breathing difficulties. Asthmatics commonly cite fragrances as initiating or exacerbating their asthma. Fragrances are also implicated in vascular changes that can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. Individuals with chemical sensitivities can experience symptoms at very low levels in the air, far below those known to cause harmful effects in the general population.
Although the mechanisms by which fragrance chemicals act to produce symptoms are not yet understood, the impact on all those affected can be quite severe, resulting in great difficulty in work and study activities.
What is this article intended to do?
Firstly, this information article is intended to increase the awareness within the University community about the potential impact of fragrance chemicals on the health, wellbeing, productivity and lifestyle of those affected.
Secondly, in order to protect those individuals with fragrance sensitivities and to possibly prevent others from developing such sensitivities, the University is asking for voluntary cooperation towards a scent-reduced environment. Faculty, staff, students and visitors are strongly encouraged to avoid or reduce the use of fragranced products, and to replace them with unscented alternatives.
We recognize that the issue is complex and controversial to some. We recognize the personal right of individuals to use scented products. We believe, however, that this must be balanced with the adverse health effects and extreme discomfort that can be suffered by fragrance-sensitive individuals.
This is not an issue about an individual disliking the smell of a particular perfume and getting what he/she wants in the workplace. This is not a ban on scented products. This is a request to voluntarily refrain from chemical-based scented products.
What is the University doing about it?
Recognizing that chemicals, including fragrance ’ chemicals, can negatively impact on indoor air quality, the University will strive to:
Promote the reduction of unnecessary use of chemicals, including fragrance chemicals.
Promote the use of environmentally-friendly and least harmful products in laboratories, cleaning materials, and building materials.
Target harmful chemicals and contaminants and implement controls to effectively prevent or minimize their release into the general air as a result of building, maintenance, custodial, research and teaching activities.
Support the best possible air quality practicably attainable, by means of proper ventilation, peak performance and proper maintenance of building mechanical ventilation systems, in keeping with the University’s Indoor Air Quality Standard.
Develop proper information and training to promote the above to the University community.
What can you do to help?
Be considerate of those who are sensitive to fragrance chemicals. Avoid using scented products; instead, use unscented alternatives.
If you do use scented products, use them sparingly. A general guideline for scented products is that the scent should not be detectable more than an arm’s length away from you. Do not apply scented products in a public area.
Be an informed customer. Read the product label. A product labelled as "fragrance-free" is likely to be free of fragrance chemicals. A product labelled as "scent-free" or "unscented" may mean that no fragrance chemicals have been added to the product, or it may be that a masking agent has been added to disguise the smell of some of the ingredients. These terms are not regulated, so use your nose or ask the store to check the product for fragrances.
Avoid using products (e.g. air fresheners or potpourris) that give off chemical-based scents in your work area.
Avoid using laundry products or cleaning agents that are scented. Air out drycleaned clothing before wearing.
What can you do if you are sensitive to fragrance chemicals?
If you feel you can do so comfortably, approach the scented individual and let him/her know how you react to fragrances. Be specific about the types of physical reactions you have (e.g. asthma attacks, migraines, shortness of breath). Talk to the individual in a cordial and respectful manner. Ask for their understanding and cooperation. Many people are unaware of the potential health effects of fragrance chemicals.
Inform your supervisor of your sensitivities, your symptoms, and the types of exposures that improve or worsen these symptoms. Ask your supervisor to assist in finding a solution to your situation. You may ask your supervisor to discuss this matter with the individual involved if you do not feel comfortable doing so, or if the individual has done nothing after you have advised him/her of your situation.
- Consult with your physician about your symptoms.
- Consult the resources listed in this brochure for further information or assistance.
If an individual in your work area is adversely affected by scented products:
- Listen to the person with respect and civility.
- Clarify the issue. Ask the individual to describe their health effects, the factors that make the problem better or worse, and the actions they are taking to deal with it.
- Investigate the issue and use good judgement and consideration to provide a fair, uniform and timely resolution.
- Discuss the issue with your staff in an open and non-threatening manner. Inform them of the health concerns that have arisen as a result of the use of scented products in the workplace. You may- choose to have this discussion with an individual or a group of employees, whichever is appropriate to the situation.
- Request your staffs cooperation and understanding to voluntarily avoid the use of scented products in the area. Discuss the benefits of a scent-free work area.
- Implement measures to reasonably accommodate those who are affected by scented products. Where employees are severely limited due to exposure to scented products, you may need to establish a fragrance-free zone. For meetings held in enclosed rooms, you may need to send out notices to attendees informing them of the scent-free nature of the meeting.
- Consult with the building engineer regarding the adequacy of ventilation in the area.
- Distribute this information and display the "We Share the Air" poster.
- Refer those issues which cannot be resolved locally to the Department Head, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, the local joint health and safety committee and/or Human Resources.
What should you do if you’re approached about the scented product you’re wearing?
If an individual or your supervisor informs you that the fragranced products that you use or wear are a problem and requests that you avoid using them, you may feel puzzled, hurt, annoyed, defensive or even insulted by the request.
Understand that it is not about you as a person or about your choice of fragrance, but it is about the chemicals in the fragranced product. Do not discount the issue as ridiculous and unreasonable.
Discuss the issue openly. Ask questions about the health impact on the person, the types of symptoms experienced, the factors which make the person’s symptoms better or worse (e.g. fragrance type, amount used).
Empathize with the individual. Work with cooperation and understanding towards a satisfactory resolution.
Office of Environmental Health and Safety
215 Huron Street, 7th floor
214 College Street
Tel. (416) 978-8030
St. George Campus Accessibility Services
(Programs and Services for Students with a Disability)
Robarts Library, 130 St. George Street, 1st Floor
Tel. (416) 978-8060, TDD (416) 978-1902
Ontario Lung Association
Tel. (418) 922-9440
Fragranced Products Information Network