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Food Allergies at Work – Health and Safety Guidance

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Food and allergy intolerance

Rates of allergies have risen sharply in the last 20 years. 44% of adults in the UK suffer from one or more types of allergy. As a result, it is now increasingly likely that employers will need to support staff within their workforce who suffer from allergies.

Employers have legal ‘duty of care’ obligations and, under health and safety legislation, must protect the health and safety of employees by removing or reducing workplace risks. There is a legal duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable injuries, so they could face a personal injury claim if sufficient steps are not taken.

If an allergy amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, the employer will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments, and the employee will be protected against less favourable treatment. For allergies which are serious, it is highly likely that the definition of disability will be met.

Health services:

Enquire now on 0203 667 5400

Our experts are waiting to talk with you and our aim is to respond to all enquiries within 2 hours.

How Loch Training & Wellbeing can help:

To prevent people with food allergies from suffering dangerous reactions, controlling allergens at work is crucial. People can have allergies to any food, but the Food Standards Agency lists 14 named allergens that are most common. Eight of these cause around 90% of allergic reactions (known as the big 8 food allergies).

Our food intolerance testing can help employees understand what may be affecting them by looking at 57 of the most common foods and allergies. The results can help employers to understand their employee’s health risks and enable you to work together to minimise exposure to allergens at work.

We can also advise employers on adjustments that can be made to help prevent allergic reactions at work.

First aiders should know how to respond to reactions. They should know where to find and how to administer the person’s epipen or auto injector. Ideally, even co-workers will know how to help in an emergency. This is separate training that we also offer here at Loch Associates Group.

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Are allergies a disability?

There is not one clear answer on this from a legal perspective, but more a mixed case law. In short, allergies are not excluded from the definition of disability, but it depends on the severity of the allergy.

In one case, the Tribunal concluded that diet-controlled conditions (including allergies and diabetes) do not have a substantial effect on the ability of an individual to carry out day-to-day activities (one of the tests for a disability) as there are reasonable avoidance strategies available.

In another case in 2012, it was found that a chef with a severe nut allergy was disabled.

In practice, the question of whether an allergy sufferer is classed as disabled will depend on the severity of their allergy and the ease by which it can be controlled (and how much of an effect such avoidance or control has on day-to-day activities).

For example, if an individual has an allergy to atmospheric allergens and is unable to work in an office environment without suffering an allergic reaction, the allergy may be found to have a major effect on day-to-day activities. In contrast, an allergy to a single food which can be avoided by the sufferer refraining from consuming it, is unlikely to have a substantial adverse effect on day to day activities in itself.

Why should an employer be concerned?

Although it might be easy to think that having an allergy is an issue for the employee to manage, an employer has the following obligations:

  • Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers must “so far as is reasonably practicable” protect the health and safety of employees by removing or reducing workplace risks.
  • If an allergy amounts to a disability, then the employer will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for the allergy sufferer.
  • An employer has a common law duty of care to its employees. Where the risk of injury is foreseeable the employer may be at risk of a personal injury claim if it does not take steps to prevent such injury.

What should employers do?

The following are a few tips as to what an employer could/should do when they have employees which suffer from allergies:

  • On an individual basis, from a risk management point of view, the exact nature and severity of the allergy should be obtained from the employee.
  • Consider whether the employee should be asked to identify themselves as an allergy sufferer for the benefit of any first aiders or colleagues.
  • Consider a general policy on the most common severe allergens; for example, a ban on consuming peanuts at desks or storing shellfish products in any communal fridge.
  • Ensuring a high level of cleanliness, especially where there is shared equipment or kitchen resources.
  • Consider whether an allergy sufferer should be presented with a personalised allergy policy/contract. This would make it clear to the employee not only what the employer was doing to accommodate their allergy but would also clearly identify the employee’s obligation to carry their own medication and take reasonable precautions not to ingest any allergen.

If a person’s allergy is so severe as to amount to a disability, an employer should also consider whether any reasonable adjustments are possible. These may include:

  • Supplying the employee with their own storage and utensils;
  • Allowing for time off to attend allergy appointments;
  • Permitting an employee to have a “fixed desk” in a hot-desking environment; and
  • Ensuring that the employee is not excluded from any work functions due to their allergy.

Enquire now on 0203 667 5400

Our experts are waiting to talk with you and our aim is to respond to all enquiries within 2 hours.

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