Food Allergies and Employers’ Responsibilities: Julie Galarneau’s story

Food Allergy and Employers' Responsibilities

Wondering what employers’ responsibilities are when it comes to making sure employees with food allergies are safe? Allergies Quebec explores this question whyle examing Julie Galarneau’s daily routine at work.

Julie Galarneau is allergic to fish, seafood, and sulphites. She has been working as a pharmacy technician for several years, and works in close proximity with her colleagues, sharing various workstations with them. For as long as she can remember, Julie has always taken responsibility of managing her own food allergies, taking it upon herself to establish adequate measures to ensure her safety. We asked her to share her day-to-day reality with us, and to discuss the ways she reduces the risk of allergic reactions in the workplace.
But first, let’s look at employers’ obligations…

Employers’ Responsibilities in Managing Food Allergies

In Quebec, it is the responsibility of the Labour Standards, Equity, and Occupational Health and Safety Board (Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail – CNESST) to ensure that the rights and obligations of the workplace are respected, by both employees and employers. But, when it comes to food allergies, it seems as though the employees are the only ones responsible for their own safety.
An employer is not required to implement measures to reduce the risk of allergen contamination in the workplace (1). However, all businesses in Quebec are subject to the First Aid Minimum Standards Regulation, which stipulates that employers must “make sure that at least one first-aider is present at all times during working hours”. The number of first-aiders on site depends on the number of employees present during a particular shift.

Julie’s Reality – Tips on How to Protect Yourself in the Workplace

Julie’s workplace has about 50 employees, divided into different teams. In the pharmaceutical laboratory, there are several workstations, each with a computer, a telephone, and a counter used to prepare prescriptions.
From one day to the next, and sometimes even during the same shift, Julie has to change workstations. Each time, she is at risk, not knowing what the previous person has touched, and must take the necessary precautions to ensure her own safety. Here are some simple measures that Julie has implemented in her workplace, which can be adapted to your own work environment as well.
Promoting Awareness and Educating Colleagues about Food Allergies

As an employee, one of the first things to do to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction in the workplace is to inform your boss and co-workers of your allergies, making sure not to downplay them. Others should be aware that a food allergic reaction could possibly lead to death, and that simple measures, such as washing your hands and cleaning common surface areas, can greatly reduce the risk.
This is exactly what Julie has done. All of her colleagues know that she has food allergies. Every time a new employee joins the team, she lets them know right away. “I inform others, because if they don’t wash their hands after eating fish and then they touch the telephone, I’ll have a reaction if I pick up the receiver after them.” And her initiative is paying off. Julie’s co-workers are more aware of food allergies, and some even warn Julie when they have fish in their lunch.
Can You Recognize an Allergic Reaction?

Julie’s employer, like many businesses in Quebec, ensures that at least one person who has completed their first-aid training is always on site. So, if Julie has an allergic reaction, a colleague would be able to help her.
However, it is always best to teach colleagues what the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction are and show them how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Also, make sure to have your emergency medication on you at all times, or tell your colleagues where it is so they can easily access it in case of anaphylactic shock.

Clean Common Surface Areas Regularly

Julie shares many surface areas and equipment with her colleagues, so as soon as she arrives at her workstation, she uses disinfectant wipes to clean all surfaces she will come into contact with, such as computer keyboards and telephone receivers. “I don’t know what my colleagues touched or what they did before I arrived.” She doesn’t want to take the risk of accidentally coming into contact with an allergen that could be fatal.

Julie Galarneau is allergic to fish, seafood, and sulphites. She has been working as a pharmacy technician for several years, and works in close proximity with her colleagues, sharing various workstations with them.

For as long as she can remember, Julie has always taken responsibility of managing her own food allergies, taking it upon herself to establish adequate measures to ensure her safety. We asked her to share her day-to-day reality with us, and to discuss the ways she reduces the risk of allergic reactions in the workplace.

But first, let’s look at employers’ obligations…

Employers’ Responsibilities in Managing Food Allergies

In Quebec, it is the responsibility of the Labour Standards, Equity, and Occupational Health and Safety Board (Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail – CNESST) to ensure that the rights and obligations of the workplace are respected, by both employees and employers. But, when it comes to food allergies, it seems as though the employees are the only ones responsible for their own safety.

An employer is not required to implement measures to reduce the risk of allergen contamination in the workplace (1). However, all businesses in Quebec are subject to the First Aid Minimum Standards Regulation, which stipulates that employers must “make sure that at least one first-aider is present at all times during working hours”. The number of first-aiders on site depends on the number of employees present during a particular shift.

Julie’s Reality – Tips on How to Protect Yourself in the Workplace

Julie’s workplace has about 50 employees, divided into different teams. In the pharmaceutical laboratory, there are several workstations, each with a computer, a telephone, and a counter used to prepare prescriptions.

From one day to the next, and sometimes even during the same shift, Julie has to change workstations. Each time, she is at risk, not knowing what the previous person has touched, and must take the necessary precautions to ensure her own safety. Here are some simple measures that Julie has implemented in her workplace, which can be adapted to your own work environment as well.

Promoting Awareness and Educating Colleagues about Food Allergies

As an employee, one of the first things to do to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction in the workplace is to inform your boss and co-workers of your allergies, making sure not to downplay them. Others should be aware that a food allergic reaction could possibly lead to death, and that simple measures, such as washing your hands and cleaning common surface areas, can greatly reduce the risk.

This is exactly what Julie has done. All of her colleagues know that she has food allergies. Every time a new employee joins the team, she lets them know right away. “I inform others, because if they don’t wash their hands after eating fish and then they touch the telephone, I’ll have a reaction if I pick up the receiver after them.” And her initiative is paying off. Julie’s co-workers are more aware of food allergies, and some even warn Julie when they have fish in their lunch.

Can You Recognize an Allergic Reaction?

Julie’s employer, like many businesses in Quebec, ensures that at least one person who has completed their first-aid training is always on site. So, if Julie has an allergic reaction, a colleague would be able to help her.

However, it is always best to teach colleagues what the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction are and show them how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Also, make sure to have your emergency medication on you at all times, or tell your colleagues where it is so they can easily access it in case of anaphylactic shock.

Clean Common Surface Areas Regularly

Julie shares many surface areas and equipment with her colleagues, so as soon as she arrives at her workstation, she uses disinfectant wipes to clean all surfaces she will come into contact with, such as computer keyboards and telephone receivers. “I don’t know what my colleagues touched or what they did before I arrived.” She doesn’t want to take the risk of accidentally coming into contact with an allergen that could be fatal.

Leave Nothing to Chance

Despite the precautions Julie takes on a daily basis in her workplace, she has often been confronted with the risk of cross-contamination. Several times, she has had to throw away her entire lunch because something that she was unable to identify had leaked from a colleague’s lunch box onto hers. On another occasion, during a job training session at the head office, the only option for lunch was an open buffet, despite the fact that she had filled out a form beforehand, informing the organizers of her food allergies.

“Zero risk” does not exist when it comes to food allergies. When sharing a workspace with colleagues, it’s best not to leave anything to chance. Always be aware of your surroundings and take all necessary precautions!

[1] The Labour Standards Act stipulates that “an employee may be absent from work for a period of not more than 26 weeks over a period of 12 months, owing to sickness”, which includes allergic reactions.

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To get the latest news and benefit from free services, subscribe to  Allergy Quebec’s newsletter. By doing so, you will automatically become a member of the association free of charge.