Is Your Workplace Asthma Friendly?

I have been lucky to, for the most part, work in very asthma friendly workplaces. I currently am a freelance writer, which means I am in control of my work environment because I have an office in my basement. I spend 3 hours a week working in a family’s home, and they are mindful of my asthma but also use natural cleaning products anyways, which is helpful in avoiding asthma triggers.

Prior to my current employment situation (which is super great), I worked in childcare which is also very asthma friendly for the most part, due to the nature of the work that we do—when in a childcare centre of 55 children, 7 or more of them have asthma, keeping the centre asthma-friendly is important, so it worked well for me. We vacuumed daily, each play centre and toys within it was cleaned weekly, and tables were all cleaned multiple times a day. The biggest concern asthma-wise was sick kids, and that was not an immediate trigger, I just washed my hands a lot. On occasion, I’d have to ask the kids to put their scented hand sanitizers away, and at a previous job with an after-school club once a week, I had a kid who for whatever reason drowned himself in body spray, but that was a one-time deal at least when I was working.

I haven’t dealt with the traditional office environment as an employee, but I have experienced many as a consumer. I can only imagine having to be constantly vigilant about what my coworkers were bringing into the workplace—be it a spray bottle of air freshener (which freshens absolutely nothing) or potpourri in the bathroom, tracking in pet dander (I don’t have animal allergies), or being in an office environment that was vacuumed at best three times a year.

Some things, like infection control or how often the people I am working with might be sick while in my presence is something I consider when I am contemplating what I might do if I get an offer for a position I applied for. For instance, I applied at a personal care home to be a recreation facilitator, but in addition to an 80-minute-per-way bus ride for a 3 hour shift, I also realized the potential for seniors in group or institutional living to be constantly sick and passing that on to me was very, very high, and probably not something good for me to be subjecting my immune system to, especially after being out of daycare for a couple years (where I am sure I had all kinds of immunity!). The family I work with now is also great about letting me know if anybody is sick, so that they can help me stay healthy, and I appreciate this so, so much—it helps that the mom also has a somewhat suppressed immune system and totally gets it about how sick we get!

Sometimes, I feel like some of my considerations are silly, and most—or at least many—I think are easy to deal with if the communication is there. Sometimes, though, we do not have a choice and just have to deal with our asthma—and its triggers—as it comes. I think that often we are cognizant of our asthma when we are thinking about jobs—for instance, I wouldn’t probably apply to be a construction worker since I have a dust allergy! It is okay to request reasonable accommodations for your asthma, although the legality of those accommodations may vary based on where you live. However, I feel if you are reasonable about what you need, and willing to be patient and a part of the process, I believe that most employers should be open to assisting with adjustments needed in the workplace environment so that employees can be as productive as possible! It is all about how you communicate your needs—if you are polite and offer suggestions, it goes a long way!

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