HR Strange But True!
October 29, 2002

LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City has been hit with a lawsuit from a nurse who contends that supervisors made her suffer for more than a year by letting coworkers douse themselves in perfume or cologne. Smelling the fragrances resulted in headaches, eye irritation, swelling of her face, and other symptoms, she says.

Nurse Susan Bell, 57, claims in the federal lawsuit that supervisors failed to adequately accommodate her and enforce their own policy against wearing of heavy perfumes. She says supervisors and colleagues instead made her a laughingstock, with some continuing to bathe in their perfumes even after she told them it made her sick. She worked at the hospital for more than a decade before she took a disability leave in March 2001.

"I have allergic and severe reactions to fragrances and paints," Bell said in a statement to the Utah Labor Commission's anti-discrimination division. "I complained to my supervisors . . . and they promised to fix the problem, yet no action was taken and every day I was sick at work."

LDS Hospital spokesman Jess Gomez told the Salt Lake Tribune that hospital administrators "did everything humanly possible" to accommodate Bell, including building her own work space, updating the ventilation system, and educating her coworkers on not wearing strong fragrances.

As unusual as the suit sounds, Bell's story is hardly unique, according to Mary Lamielle, executive director of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies. Lamielle said she often hears stories about employees harassing coworkers who suffer from asthma attacks, bronchitis or other health effects from fragrances.

In one case, she said, workers sprayed most of a bottle of perfume on another co-worker. Yet no one would ever "pull a wheelchair out from under a person with disabilities and make them fall," said Lamielle, who backs "fragrance-free workplaces."

Up to 30 percent of the public reports some sensitivity to chemicals, including fragrances, according to a study in the 1990s by the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. Up to 6 percent said the "intolerance has a major impact on their quality of life."

Louise Kosta, chief writer of The Human Ecologist, compares the effects of fragrances on some people to secondhand smoke. "The fact that fragrance smells good and is socially approved does not alter the fact that people can be harmed by fragrance," said Kosta, who has written a book on the hazards.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune

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