Use of scented products (see Appendix A) in an indoor environment can have a serious impact on health. Scented products such as cosmetics, fragrances, hair sprays, deodorants, shampoos, lotions, body gels, laundry detergents and fabric softeners have become increasingly prevalent in modern life. These products can contain, in various concentrations, up to several hundred different types of chemicals. Chemical ingredients in scented products include acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool, methylene chloride, a-pinene, g-terpinene and a-terpineol. Some of these chemicals are respiratory irritants and are known to have neurological or systemic effects at high concentrations.
As many scented products contain respiratory irritants, they may trigger sensitivities or aggravate asthma and allergies in certain individuals. Symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, malaise, loss of appetite, depression, upper respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath, difficulty with concentration and skin irritation have also been reported to result from exposure to scented products. Many of these symptoms are reported to worsen when people spend much of their time working indoors.
As an employer, the City of Toronto is required to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of worker health and safety. Similarly, employees are obligated to take measures to protect themselves and their co-workers. These duties are recognized and reinforced in the City’s Occupational Health and Safety Policy. The City also has a duty, under the Human Rights Code, to accommodate disability. This requirement is recognized and reinforced in the City’s Accommodation Policy. These guidelines have been developed to assist the workplace parties in meeting legislated and policy obligations when addressing scented product-related concerns.
Aspects of these guidelines will result in members of the public becoming aware of scented product-related concerns in City workplaces. While it is not the intent of these guidelines to impose obligations on members of the public with respect to scented products usage, these guidelines are expected to lead to greater awareness of this issue.
As addressing scented products-related concerns can be sensitive for the person approaching others and for those that are approached, guidance on how to interact in a positive and respectful manner can be found at Civility at Work. If an environment of co-operation and understanding is created between the parties, scented products concerns will more likely be resolved.
Be open in communicating your situation to your supervisor and colleagues, if you feel comfortable to do so. If you can identify products that trigger your reactions, share that information.
(i) If approaching a colleague regarding use of scented products:
(ii) Approach your supervisor for assistance in addressing the concern if:
(i) Report the health care and/or lost time to your supervisor as a workplace illness/injury.
(ii) Follow normal protocols for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses.
(i) Advise your supervisor of your need for accommodation. Your supervisor will make a referral to Employee Health and Rehabilitation. You can complete the Request/Document Accommodation Request Form for this purpose.
(ii) Provide necessary supporting documentation. Employee Health and Rehabilitation will require you to obtain medical documentation from a medical specialist (e.g. allergist, environmental health specialist), confirming that your conditions/symptoms are related to exposure to scented products and outlining the severity of the health risk, your restrictions and the type(s) of accommodations needed. You, or your treating medical specialist, will return this information directly to Employee Health and Rehabilitation. Please see the City’s Guidelines for Accommodating Disability for more information.
(i) Be aware that exposure to scented products can cause symptoms in certain individuals.
(ii) Ask the employee who is experiencing adverse reactions, if known, if there are any products that trigger these reactions that you can avoid.
(iii) Be understanding of the concern and willing to reach a resolution in a co-operative manner.
(i) When first approached by employees who report that scented products are adversely affecting their health, thoroughly document the employees’ concerns. Appendix A contains the Scented Product Reaction Report form that is to be used to document scented product-related incidents. This form, however, does not replace the Supervisor’s Report of Injury/Accident.
(ii) If there may be a general indoor air quality concern or deficiencies in the operation of the ventilation system, arrange for an assessment by building management staff and then, if necessary, by an occupational hygiene consultant. An occupational hygiene assessment can be arranged through your Human Resources occupational health and safety consultant.
(iii) If the concern relates directly to scented products usage:
(i) Follow normal protocols for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses
(i) Make a referral of the employee’s accommodation request to Employee Health and Rehabilitation, obtaining assistance as needed from your Human Resources Disability management/WSI Consultant. Provide Employee Health and Rehabilitation written information on the employee’s essential job duties and where these duties may result in exposure to scented products. Employee Health and Rehabilitation will advise the employee that detailed information from a medical specialist is needed to facilitate the accommodation. In order to ensure appropriate accommodation, the employee will be provided a request for information to take to the specialist that:
(ii) As with other medical accommodation requests, explain the accommodation process to the employee, advising that the accommodation will be dealt with in a timely manner and providing the anticipated timelines. Please see the City’s Guidelines for Accommodating Disabilities for more information.
(iii) Arrange for posters specifically related to refraining from use of scented products to be posted in the workplace. A sample prepared by Children’s Services Division is attached as Appendix B. Other divisions may wish to customize the background to this poster to more closely reflect their workplace environments.
(iv) Be aware that many products (e.g. room deodorizers, cleaners, sanitizers) are also often scented and may trigger the same responses in an employee as perfumes and colognes. Wherever practicable, eliminate use of these scented products and use unscented safe alternatives. Otherwise, restrict their usage to areas away from the employee(s) requiring accommodation or to times when the employee(s) is (are) not present in the workplace. Consult with building management and/or Purchasing and Materials Management Division, as needed, in achieving these objectives.
(v) The nature and extent of accommodation should be based on the severity of the health risk, as identified through medical documentation. Consult with Employee Health and Rehabilitation regarding appropriate accommodation. Accommodations, depending on severity, may include:
(vi) Use the Request/Document Accommodation Plan form, as required by the Accommodation of Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to document steps taken to accommodate the employee and review this plan on an annual basis.
Occupational Health and Safety Act
Human Rights Code
Accommodation of Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Corporate Occupational Health and Safety Policy
April 23, 2002
April 4, 2006
OHSCC reviewed and re-endorsed
Occupational Health & Safety Co-ordinating Committee (OHSCC)
February 10, 2016