Going nuts: Banning peanuts in the workplace another issue for SMEs

A new survey has found 22% of workers have witnessed a colleague experience a severe allergic reaction at work, raising concern about the duty of care of employers.

The survey of over 500 employment seekers conducted by Employment Office also found 20% of Australians had worked for a company with a “nut-free policy”.

The issue is similar to other duty of care matters adding to the workload of small business owners, such as the need to look out for signs of domestic violence, or stress and mental health matters.

Allergies to peanuts can cause a range of reactions, and in some cases can be life threatening. It is common in schools to ban peanuts from lunch boxes, but is it appropriate to do so at work?

Employment Office managing director Tudor Marsden-Huggins says banning nut products can help an employee manage their allergy issues.

“It’s advisable for workplaces to be aware and prepared for the potential allergic reactions of their employees,” he said.

However, Marsden-Huggins says it really is up to the employees to take responsibility for their own safety.

“The best scenario is for the workplace and the employee to work in partnership, creating a plan to ensure the safety of anyone at risk.”

He says implementing a nut-free policy could be taking things to the extreme, but it is “essential” for employees to take a severe food allergy seriously.

“The condition is recognised as a disability in Australia, so employees affected should be treated with an acceptable level of care and consideration,” he said.

He advises workplaces to create a safety plan for anaphylaxis, which is the life-threatening reaction to nuts.

“Encourage employees to be considerate of colleagues with allergies, asking them to wash their hands after having contact with allergy-inducing foods, and requesting they do not eat these foods in shared work spaces.

“Consider offering nut-free snack options in the office kitchen, and when planning in-house or off-site events, consult with employees to ensure suitable options are taken to reduce their risk.”

E&I People Solutions human resources consultant Abiramie Sathiamoorthy told SmartCompany that it is up to the employer to provide a safe work environment, but banning nuts could be a step too far.

“It is not a school, it is a workplace, and adults need to take responsibility for their own health,” she says.

“Employers do need to provide a safe workplace. However, it shouldn’t extend across to monitor what they eat.”

However, Sathiamoorthy says if an employer knows about an employee’s allergy, they clearly must take precautions.

“If the employer is providing lunch free of charge…they have a duty of care to label the foods to highlight any ingredients that might set of a reaction.”


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