Workplace Safety

Training Workers to Deal with Life-Threatening Allergic Reactions

A great many people suffer from allergies, and an unfortunate minority have allergies so severe that their reaction is a life-threatening condition called “anaphylaxis.” Today’s Advisor will provide you with a brief—but potentially life-saving—training session on how to deal with anaphylaxis.

Individuals who know they have a life-threatening allergy will usually avoid exposure and carry an epinephrine injection device, commonly called an EpiPen®, that interrupts the reaction. However, many people don’t know they have a potentially deadly allergy until they experience their first life-threatening reaction.

To respond effectively to anaphylactic shock in the workplace, workers need to know the signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock and what they should do.

Background

Who needs to be trained? No specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard requires training for anaphylaxis, but anaphylaxis is included in most first-aid training.

Why train workers to respond to anaphylaxis? Even prompt emergency medical assistance can sometimes arrive too late to help anaphylaxis victims. Workers who respond appropriately could save a coworker’s, customer’s, or client’s life.

Resources for trainer: Epipen.com has created an informative 5-minute video on using an EpiPen that you can include in this session if you have access to the Internet.

Furthermore, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has created a wallet card listing symptoms and treatment for anaphylaxis that you can use as a handout during and/or after the session.

Anaphylaxis Basics

One in five Americans is allergic to something—a food product, drug, chemical, insect bite, or plant pollen. Allergies occur when our bodies overreact to proteins in our environment. Symptoms range from runny noses to life-threatening reactions involving the heart and lungs. These life-threatening allergic reactions are called “anaphylaxis.”

Allergens

Some substances are more likely to provoke an allergic reaction. If it is a chemical in your workplace, the safety data sheet (SDS) will list it as a sensitizer or potential allergen; some of these chemicals can cause anaphylaxis.

In addition, however, your workplace may contain many substances that could cause an anaphylactic reaction that will not have SDSs, including:

Foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires food labels to list the eight most common food allergens: dairy, egg, wheat, soy, seafood, fish, tree nuts, and peanuts.

Indoor/outdoor allergens. The most common indoor/outdoor allergens are animal dander, pollen, mold, and dust mites.

Drugs. Common allergenic drugs include penicillin drugs, anticonvulsants, insulin, iodine contrast dyes, and sulfa drugs.

Insect bites and stings. Biting insects, like flies or mosquitoes, can cause mild allergic reactions, but stinging insects are far more likely to cause anaphylaxis. These insects include bees (honeybees and bumblebees), wasps (yellow jackets, paper wasps, and hornets), and stinging ants like fire ants.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll conclude the training session with how to recognize anaphylactic symptoms and how to treat anaphylaxis.