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Holiday Scents – Do They Make Sense?

November 29, 2010

Let’s start with a little knowledge about CDC’s Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Policy. This policy does not allow candles, incense, or burning potpourri in the workplace for obvious fire-hazard reasons. But did you know that cleaning products from home, your favorite freshening spray, and other non-burning fragranced products can be taboo too?

This policy has created lots of questions. Most common are: “You mean I can’t wear perfume or deodorant at work!?! Does this mean I can’t bring my trusty can of Lysol to the office?” (Sometimes, we get the follow-on question, “Is OSHE the odor police?” to which we emphatically answer — No!)

So we’ll try to answer these common questions posed by many of you, our colleagues, with the IEQ policy’s guidelines as our basis for discussion.

Fragrance and personal care products

IEQ Policy guidelines state

Personal care products (e.g., colognes, perfumes, essential oils, scented skin and hair products) should not be applied at or near actual workstations, restrooms, or anywhere in CDC-owned or leased buildings. In addition, CDC encourages employees to be as fragrance-free as possible when they arrive in the workplace. Fragrance is not appropriate for a professional work environment, and the use of some products with fragrance may be detrimental to the health of workers with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and chronic headaches/migraines.

The bottom line

Your coworkers likely want you to continue using personal hygiene products! Though, per the policy, they should not be applied in offices, restrooms, or other areas around coworkers. Apply them at home, and yes… you may need to re-apply them in CDC fitness facility locker rooms after a serious workout!

Realize too, that scents can affect your coworkers, so save the perfumes and colognes for personal affairs. Also, CDC and OSHE, in our collective efforts to Go Green, Get Healthy, encourage all of us to use – and be exposed to – fewer chemicals, including those that provide fragrance. Where possible, choose personal products that are fragrance-free or limited-scent to reduce exposure to additional chemicals, for both yourself and others.

Environmental hygiene products

IEQ Policy guidelines state

CDC will ensure that products used in the workplace, such as soaps, cleaning products, paints, etc. are safe and odor-free or emit low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to the fullest extent feasible. Only “green” cleaning products…[that are biodegradable, of low toxicity, fragrance-free, and otherwise less hazardous to human health or the environment]… shall be specified and used within CDC facilities and leased spaces unless otherwise approved by the Office of Health and Safety (…though now, we are OSHE!).

The bottom line

OSHE cooperates with CDC’s Buildings and Facilities Office to assure use of green cleaning products, which are intended to limit everyone’s exposure to toxic chemicals. Bringing in a can of bold, new Product X — “to keep your space germ-free and you free from illness” — is counterproductive to our efforts.

So what’s a person to do to keep surfaces clean at work?

First, think about the surface we all use most at work — our hands are the surface in touch with many other surfaces at work; they need constant cleaning. We advocate clean hands using CDC’s hand washing guidelines (also see first article above) and any alcohol-based, fragrance-free sanitizers that have been placed in your area. Many hand sanitizer stations are now placed throughout CDC).

Then, if you feel the need – or – are under protocols to do extra surface cleaning in addition to CDC-provided janitorial services, OHS (OSHE) recommends:

Select Green Cleaning Products

  • Use EPA’s green product guidance and/or GSA’s website (search on “green”)
  • Choose wipes or non-aerosol (direct) sprays that can help minimize overspray

Use Green Cleaning Products

  • Use with discretion ~ your neighbors may have asthma, allergies, or sensitivities
  • Use at non-peak times, such as early AM or late in the day and/or before weekends or holidays.

Following these recommendations can help minimize odors and exposure for everyone and help prevent indoor air quality issues for people with chemical sensitivities or respiratory conditions. To paraphrase Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man, “with great [disinfecting] power, comes great responsibility” or put another way, “please be circumspect when you disinfect.” Your colleagues will thank you!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Rebecca permalink
    January 27, 2011 5:36 am

    I just left City government employment due to the perfume sensitivity problem, was insulted and laughed at quite a bit even though my doctor and I did go through ADA (she does not allow fragrances in her offices though sometimes patients wear it in and then they open doors to outside for a bit) I had a letter from her and the accomodation but somehow it was thought impossible to ask people not to wear perfume or cologne to work even though I pointed out not drinking or smoking at work seems to work fine..so the perfume stays and I left.

    I just found out about CDC thing, will send to Mayor and City Council, too late for me as I already resigned but may help future cubicle dwellers (unfortunately policy makers have their own spacious office so don’t know what the problem is for us who work in cubes)

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