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
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
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.
Salt Lake Tribune