Q:

11/29/2011
Do you have any guidance for peanut allergies in the workplace, we are moving to an open work area and some individuals have expressed concerns regarding employees with peanut allergies, do we need a no peanut policy in the workplace? Thank you for reference and advice.

A:

Thank you for your recent inquiry.

I am not aware of any specific guidelines regarding the management of food allergies in the workplace. However, the principles involved in the management of food allergies in the workplace are very similar to those involved in the management of food allergies in schools.

We have on our website two responses dealing with this question, and I believe that they would be very helpful to you. All you need to do is go to the Academy Ask the Expert website and place the word "schools" in the search box. This will bring up two pages of entries.

(1) Posted on 9/02/2009 - "Peanut allergy and indirect contact with peanuts"

(2) Posted on 2/15/2011 - "Legislation regarding the administration of autoinjectable epinephrine in the school setting"

Finally, there is a more recent source of information regarding the management of food allergy in schools that would be helpful to you. The reference is:

Young MC, et al. Management of food allergies in schools: a perspective for allergists. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2009; 124(2):175-182.

Dr. Michael Young is the lead author of that article, and is a well known national expert in food allergies, especially allergy to peanuts. He is an authority on the management of peanut allergy in school settings. Because of this, he may be more aware of similar guidelines that are available for the workplace, and therefore, in addition to giving you the information above, I am asking Dr. Young if he is aware of any guidelines more specific for the workplace - or, if not, if he has any further suggestions in this regard. When we hear from Dr. Young, I will forward his response to you.

Thank you again for your inquiry.

Sincerely,
Phil Lieberman, M.D.

We have received the response from Dr. Michael Young. Thank you again for your inquiry, and we hope this response is helpful to you.

Sincerely,
Phil Lieberman, M.D.

I am presently unaware of any policy or recommendations regarding food allergies and the workplace. If there were, it might fall under OSHA or NIOSH but in general, these agencies are more concerned with safety issues that apply universally, not select subpopulations. I am thinking of the situation of a nut-allergic employee in a factory processing peanut flour, etc. but I have not heard of any official statements arising from that hypothetical occupational scenario.

In contrast, the typical workplace situation where the potential exposure is through cross-contamination of foods purchased or casual contacts (skin and airborne) would be analogous to the school setting. I fully agree with your very thoughtful and well-referenced response. In the absence of clinical studies, there is no evidence base for recommending peanut-free schools, especially in light of the evidence that does exist, showing low risk of anaphylaxis from casual contacts with peanut and the ease of peanut allergen removal with routine cleaning methods. The concerns we have regarding very young children with severe food allergies in a potentially difficult to control preschool or school environment, are significantly lessened for adults, who are knowledgeable and independently able to mitigate these issues with hand washing, avoidance and preventive measures. Further safety is achieved with the adult's ready access to epinephrine. Hope that helps.

Michael C. Young, M.D.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Harvard Medical School Division of Allergy & Immunology Children’s Hospital Boston

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology