Friday, October 15, 2010

Chemical Sensitivities and Allergies- Consideration in Employment

In the 1990's the "Americans with Disabilities" act was passed by Congress. Basically, it was drafted to prevent employees from facing discrimination because of their disabilities. It was tweaked on January 1st, 2009, a year after it was amended to give a broader scope for what qualified as a "disabled" worker. It also took back some previous court rulings that Congress decided were too restrictive. By doing this, Congress succeeded in opening doors that had previously been slamming in the face of uncovered individuals with "lesser." Furthermore, disabled people could now work in jobs they'd given up on, which they'd been convinced they were too disabled to function properly in, in the first place.

This leads us to the question: what exactly is a "disability"? Like so many other definitions, these days, the concept of what a real disability is is getting hazier. Thus the need for recalling some previous court decisions, as mentioned, before. According to the ADA's current definition, a covered disability is, "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." These major life activities include, but are not limited to: eating, breathing, working and functioning in school.

What of chemical reactions? Allergies? Asthma? According to recorded statistics, roughly fifteen percent of all Americans suffer from chemical sensitivities, and one of every four Americans have allergies and/or asthma.

Allergies can cause extreme puffiness of the eyes, difficulty breathing and outbreaks of painful hives, and chemical sensitivities are even worse. These sensitivities, which are generally triggered by paints, pesticides, disinfectants, fabric softeners, detergents and so on damage a person's immune, nervous, digestive and endocrine systems and can lead to secondary— you guessed it— asthma and allergies. Considering the meaning of "disability" in its rawest sense, all of these are covered under this broader meaning of what it means to be disabled.

Chemical sensitivities cause difficulties in the workplace, as well as allergies, whether it be for the people doing the work with the sensitive products or the people who will be striding around the finished product. The most eloquently-painted portrait can still trigger a severe reaction from someone with a chemical sensitivity to paint substances. Some people, with the most severe forms of chemical sensitivities and/or allergies become prisoners in their own house.

Having said that, employers are obliged to provide certain accommodations for people with these conditions. In some cases, this is a painful and difficult process. For others, there are simple fixes that require just an extra bit of thoughtfulness. In the end, the structure of the ADA and the extra bit of effort from supervisors allows all workers to function properly, and get along just fine.

There's Jane Rogers' Cleaning Service, for instance. Jane Rogers spearheads a small cleaning group which covers (according to her website) dusting, sweeping, mopping, walls, windows, carpet cleaning, floor care, painting, lawn care and general "handyman" services. But if what you want isn't listed, she assures the reader, just ask. They're probably capable of handing that, too. Jane's business works with a multitude of buildings: cubicles, dentists offices, apartment complexes, and so on. If it's got walls and a floor, Jane's service can tackle it.

About twenty percent of the clients who ask her to clean up these spaces are chemical sensitive and need special accommodations, she says. Jane's service is not only thorough, but creative. To remedy various clients' sensitivity to chemical smells, which seems to be the primary sensitivity she has on her hands, Jane adds a bit of lime juice to the mixture, which negatives the chemical smell and lets everyone go about their usual work day unperturbed.

According to her, this does just the trick and prevents any unpleasant reactions from the people working.

Jane's cleaning service provides a particularly interesting cure to the issue of chemical sensitivity in the cleaning products they use, but it is not the only one, and they aren't the only group going the extra mile.

Other organizations provide different alternatives, different solutions to the chemical troubles which plague the employees working day-by-day in the space and those who work cleaning it up when the sun goes down. Offering spaces for people to "detox" for a certain length of time, alternative working spaces away from the places which trigger allergies and chemical sensitivities, special air filters and so on are technology which can help the employees work successfully.

Every employer is encouraged, if not required to give these people what they need to work, and to live. After all, who will do the work if there are no employees?


  1. Most of the jobs Ive had have been overcautious about this, making us look over MSDS and giving people breaks for the slightest annoyances. Excellently written article!

  2. i think people with disabilities shouldn't be discriminated but a handicapped person shouldn't be a fireman if you know what i mean

  3. Nice history/info, looking forward to your next update

  4. this was put together very nicely

  5. you make a really good point, never thought of that

  6. Excellent post!

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  7. I don't know if I can get the job I want due to my latex allergy

  8. the more you know!

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  9. looking forward to seeing more posts

  10. Very complete information, thanks!