HR Strange But True!
August 12, 2009

It may not make sense, but two workplace incidents in 1 week that caused some major disruptions were caused by scents—well workplace odors are more like it.

In Fort Worth, Texas, a Bank of America call center complex was evacuated when employees reported smelling noxious “fumes.”

There was a slight outbreak of “contagious fear” (aka panic) as employees fled the facility thinking there was a toxic emergency. Several employees were taken to the hospital with symptoms including shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea (most of whom were in the same cubicle area), and over 100 employees reported lesser symptoms.

The local emergency responders were anticipating a chemical or gas leak or high-level of carbon monoxide, but their detectors found nothing. The “high-level” of odor is now believed to be an over-application of fragrance, especially since witnesses reported seeing a colleague spraying something, which some identified as perfume, in the affected area.

Emergency room experts say that this type of fear-induced stress can bring on symptoms that are very real. The building was later cleared for re-entry.

Luckily for cosmetics companies, the brand of fragrance was not identified.

In another incident, a plane bound for Orlando, Florida from Hartford, Connecticut made an emergency landing at MacArthur Airport on Long Island after a flight attendant reported a burning smell in the rear of the cabin. All aboard were unharmed and later boarded another plane to continue their trip.

The suspicious odor was determined to be grounds that had somehow landed on the heating plate of the coffee machine in the galley and started to burn. This gives the term “coffee break” a new meaning.

All in all, the two odor-related “emergencies” were resolved and also gave emergency planners more actual employee reactions to crises to study.

Sources: WFAA and CBS 11

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