Occupational Safety and Health Administration is studying workplace agents that trigger an allergic response in workers in Kansas and throughout the country. This is a complicated problem, however, because allergens exist everywhere, and many people have allergies. OSHA will need to sort out what kinds of allergies might be covered and whether to regulate workplace allergens.
Around 20 to 40% of the population has hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, at some time. Hay fever is caused by allergens like animal dander, foods, pollens, molds and dust mites.
Another common allergic condition is bronchial asthma. One study found that between 400,000 and 3 million workers could have asthma, and another study found that workplace conditions may account for 2 to 15% of all asthma cases. There has been an increase in both the severity and number of asthma cases in recent years.
In the workplace, skin problems such as hives or rashes are common. NIOSH has estimated that workers experience between 1 million and 1.7 million skin disorders annually.
The difficulty in all of these estimations is determining whether an allergic reaction is work-related or caused by another factor, such as the environment, or a genetic condition. Adding to the complexity is the fact that there are a great many chemical agents connected with different kinds of allergies.
For a worker with allergies or asthma, exposure to chemical agents in the workplace could increase the incidence or severity of the worker’s allergic condition. If the worker loses pay due to allergic reactions or becomes unable to work, he or she may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses and lost wages. An employee with questions about exposure to chemical agents in the workplace may wish to speak to an attorney with a background in workers’ compensation.