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The Sense of Smell and Health & Safety

As stated last week, over the next few Wednesday's we are focussing on the five senses and their link to health and safety. Today, we will look at the sense of smell.

Smell, according to the Free Dictionary, "is the sense, located in the nasal cavities of mammals and relying on the olfactory nerves, by which molecules borne in a fluid such as air can be perceived; the olfactory sense."

The sense of smell is important because it allows us to appreciate the fine things in life such as flowers and good food, but its main purpose is to alert us to dangers, often unseen. It is also important to note that what is a nice odour to some can be horrible to others, and can lead to symptoms of ill health.

Health and Safety Executive research in 2006 found that odours in the workplace are sometimes related to ill health. The research cited the most frequently reported odours being from cooking, coffee, smoke and paint. It also found that cases of symptom reporting were higher in the afternoon, and at the start of the week.

It appears, therefore, that like temperature, and light levels, thresholds for acceptable levels of workplace odours can vary among workers. Smoking e-cigarettes is a prime example of this. Those that smoke them tend to like the smell, but passers by do not always. This is one of the reasons many organisations treat smoking e-cigarettes the same way as conventional cigarettes.

Some people can lose their sense of smell - either temporarily or permanently - a disorder known as anosmia. This could be caused by flu, hay fever, sinusitis or nasal polyps, and with these conditions, it usually returns within a few days or weeks. You also lose your sense of smell as you get older.

The lack of smell can be hazardous, as these people cannot smell gas, chemicals, food that has gone off, or smoke (fire), and this is something employers need to consider when completing risk assessments, especially is people suffering from anosmia are working alone. The website, Fifth Sense, has some excellent guidance for those suffering from the disorder.

Another problem odours can have in the workplace is that to some, especially those with lung disorders or asthma, certain scents can cause health issues. Certain perfumes, or even the scent of a real Christmas tree, can cause wheezing and aggravate existing conditions.

So whilst the sense of smell is vital in detecting gas (which is why the odourless natural gas has an odour added to it), other chemicals, smoke, and off food, employers must take into account what issues various workplace odours could have on their employees and those sharing the workplace when completing risk assessments.

The above is one of a series of articles being published in the lead up to the Merseyside Business Expo on 11 October 2019, 9am - 3pm. Join us on our stand to find out more, and to find out about how KSH Safety Services can help your business.

We will be just one of about 150 local businesses exhibiting at the Liverpool Exhibition Centre that day. So why not join us as a visitor? We are expecting over 2,000 others to visit, making it an excellent opportunity to network and do business. Admission is free, and to register visit today.

In the lead up to the Expo, follow us on our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn feeds to find out the latest information on the Expo and our stand. We look forward to seeing you there.

Find out about the five senses in our articles on this series:


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