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When we talk about scents, we usually mean the smells or odours from cosmetics (perfume, make-up, shampoo, deodorant, etc.) or building materials (drywall dust, paint, adhesives, etc.) or from other products such as candles, air fresheners, cleaners, essential oils, etc.  

Scents are all around us – flowers, skunks, rain, onions, oranges, feet, etc. Scents in and of themselves are not typically bad for us. We may not like the smell of a certain scent (e.g., the olive bar at Superstore), but it typically won't adversely affect us. It's the chemicals in certain scents, better coined as fragrances, which are the true culprits, and cause health issues due to allergies and sensitivities.

These chemicals can trigger health reactions ranging from migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, weakness, confusion, depression, anxiety, coughing, shortness of breath and difficulty with concentration in people who are sensitive to them, making it difficult for them to work effectively.

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, and fragrances are increasingly being considered a workplace health and safety issue. However, there are no Canadian or provincial laws regulating the wearing of fragrances in the workplace. Why not? The causes and health reactions are difficult to pin down, but there is a growing awareness that something more formal may be needed.

To support this, a set of guidelines have been developed to help employees and managers better understand allergens and sensitivities, and how to support employees experiencing these health concerns. The Guidelines for Addressing Allergies and Sensitivities in the Workplace outlines definitions, roles and responsibilities, which managers and employees can use to ensure workplaces are healthy and safe for all employees.

Awareness and training are key to helping employees understand the adverse health effects caused by substances or elements in the workplace that can trigger allergies and sensitivities.

For more information and resources, visit  Guidelines for Addressing Allergies and Sensitivities in the Workplace webpage on MiNet.