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Do Any of Your Employees Have a Life-Threatening Allergy?
 

No idea? Never thought to ask? You can prepare for and avoid a serious health catastrophe. Here's how.

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The workplace is where you and your employees spend the better part of your waking hours--so chances are pretty high that a health issue of some kind could arise.  This probably brings to your mind the scene of a heart attack, woman going into labor, or a run-of-the-mill slip or fall.  But when a new employee recently came to speak to me about a serious allergy she had to red bell peppers, health care took on a new significance.  Apparently, her allergy is so severe, that someone else eating them within the office can send her into anaphylactic shock.  As an allergy sufferer myself, I completely understood her concern, and decided that we needed to put an action plan into place to safeguard against any such episode. 

Here's what I did, and recommend you do too, to plan for a health emergency:

Step 1: Inform the entire staff about any serious concerns. 

I confirmed that the allergic employee wanted me to make all employees aware of her situation, and then I did so. You would be surprised at how many things have red peppers in them--from the home fries my staff likes to order in for breakfast to the meals and leftovers some bring in for lunch. When I told the staff about the employee's issue, I made it very simple, but very clear, because I want everyone to understand how serious my concern is: "We have someone on staff who has an allergy so severe, it could cause her to stop breathing, and consequently, to die. No one here wants to have that happen, so please avoid bringing the trigger (red pepper) into the office at all costs. If you had something last night for dinner that contains the offending ingredient, leave it home. If you order something containing red pepper at lunch, dine out."  

Step 2:  Prepare for a worst-case scenario. 

Ask your allergic employee to explain to you exactly what happens when the allergy is triggered.  She should be able to tell you not only the early signs of an allergy attack, but also what she would like you to do in case an attack occurs.  My employee carries a device in her purse that will stop an attack, but it must be administered in a specific way. I made sure to learn how to use it, where she keeps it, and to tell other employees this information too so someone is able to act quickly in an emergency.

Step 3:  Make emergency contact information readily available.  

As a small business owner, I had never thought to include an emergency contact information sheet in my HR documents.  Now, every employee is asked to complete a brief form that designates an emergency contact person and phone number, and provides a place to disclose (should the employee so choose) any allergies that may need to be communicated to an emergency team on her behalf.  

Taking these simple steps have helped my employee feel safer, encouraged my staff to be vigilant, and assured me that an emergency situation can be handled smoothly should one arise--not just for the employee with the serious allergy, but for any of my employees.  

IMAGE: David McNew/Stringer/Getty
Last updated: Feb 19, 2013

In 2004, VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009.
@vanessanornberg




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