A NEW movement in our workplaces is starting to create a stink stronger than a fertiliser factory wafting in the wrong direction on a hot sunny day.
In a move reminiscent of the smoke-free office campaigns of the past, scent-sitive workers – those who have adverse reactions to their colleagues’ overpowering perfumes, aftershaves and body lotions – are emerging as strong backers for a fragrance-free workplace.
And according to their supporters, it is not just colleagues dousing themselves with their favourite scent who are on the nose.
Scented candles, air fresheners and fragranced cleaning products – combined with a raft of personal grooming products – all contribute to a veritable bouquet of barbed wire in many workplaces.
Champions of the fragrance-free office are quick to point out that pungently perfumed workplaces and colleagues simply make no sense – or should that be scents.
They point to research that reveals one in three Australians has reported adverse health effects from fragranced products including breathing problems and asthma, coughing, headaches and skin irritations. Others reported migraines, dizziness, nausea and mental cloudiness.
In their calls to go au naturel they point out it is not so much the smell of the fragranced product as the chemicals which produce the scent that trigger real and often serious health issues.
In fact, some workers develop such an adverse reaction to fragrances and other scented products that they are diagnosed with a condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity disorder.
Even those who don’t suffer from asthma, allergies or other illnesses can be overwhelmed by a strong blast of fragrance.
Scents that might soothe one worker will irritate another. Perfumed products, just like second-hand smoke, will eventually find their way into unsuspecting nostrils.
While supporters of the fragrance-free workplace have legitimate grievances to air, they may well be fighting an uphill battle because so many of us lead increasingly scented lives.
As standard as the nose on our face, scented products are dominating our homes, cars and our lives – and that includes our working life.
Just think of this pre-work routine, which will be common to many: After waking up to fresh lavender-infused linen, you grab a mug from the lemon-scented dishwasher before enjoying a cup of fragrant-blooming jasmine tea just prior to taking a shower with blueberry-perfumed soap wash and drying off with a freshly washed, eucalyptus-smelling bath towel.
Fast forward to the commute to work and you will splash on a bit of your favourite eau de toilette before driving to work with your Hawaiian Aloha deodoriser blasting from your car’s air vents.
No wonder that supporters of fragrance-free workplaces fear an impending stench of doom in the air – even rubbish bin bags are scented these days.
But while many of us enjoy our scented lives outside the workplace, the window is rapidly closing – or should that be opening – to the fragrant-enriched office.
While it is unlikely that a fragrance-free workplace currently exists in anything other than a one-person business, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the health and safety issues associated with the excessive use of fragrances and are taking steps to clear the air.
Just like the advent of the smoke-free office took time to become a reality, so too for the fragrance-free workplace.
It will start with bosses initially encouraging employees to dab rather than douse and will stretch to the inevitable removal of offending office deodorisers, cleaning products and sprays.
But as more and more supporters of the fragrance-free workplace get up their bosses’ nose, bosses will lose their appetite to become embroiled in costly legal action for failing to provide a safe and healthy work environment.
And with that loss of appetite comes the strong possibility that your workplace will one day become a fragrance-free zone.
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