A ‘scent’sitive issue
In a perfect world, there would be no poverty, no hunger, no conflict – and no allergies. However, this is not a perfect world and few, if any, governments take any action to address those problems. But allergies are a different matter.
Uxbridge council has taken a small step, albeit grudgingly, to protect its employees who suffer from allergic reactions to scents. Council decided this week to post notices at the township offices and at Uxpool asking patrons to avoid using too much deodorant, perfume, after-shave lotion or other chemically based scents.
The action came in the wake of a report from health and safety co-ordinator Carolyn Clementson that said at least one township employee suffers from a severe reaction to chemical scents. Ms. Clementson noted that the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to take “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances” to protect such workers. She requested that council adopt a policy that includes, among other things, asking all township employees and visitors to refrain from wearing scented products at all township facilities.
While we recognize that some allergies can be life-threatening (e.g. peanuts, bee stings), can the general public “reasonably” be asked to change the way they live to accommodate the extremely small segment of society that has allergic reactions? According to Ms. Clementson, scents can be found in a wide range of products, from cosmetics to diapers and garbage bags. Would a visitor to the township offices have to be sure they didn’t recently dispose of a diaper in a garbage bag and then wash their hands with scented soap?
Of course, it will not reach that point. Although council agreed to post notices at the township offices and Uxpool, such a move will not dramatically change the way we receive township services. If a visitor wearing scented products is too much for the affected employee to handle, the employee can merely ask another to take care of the visitor.
Or so it would seem. But a cautionary note: back in the day, smoking originally was banned from the workplace. Then it was banned in restaurants and pubs. Then the ban extended to patios, to anywhere within 20 metres of a playground, to beaches, to parks and on and on.
Unlike allergies, bans appear to be infectious, spreading forever wider and wider. For example, no one could argue against banning weapons in schools. But we have seen it carried to extremes, with students expelled or even charged for bringing plastic knives and forks to school in their lunches. There have even been stories of students being disciplined for pointing their finger like a gun during recess playtime.
Overly sensitive people have also changed the way we talk. When we were kids, we knew people who were crippled. Then, because someone, somewhere, sometime, took offence at that perfectly inoffensive word, we started refering to people as being physically handicapped. And yet, that still isn’t good enough. Now we have to say they are physically challenged.
To fully protect those who are allergic to scented products, we would all have to wash our hair with unscented shampoo, shower with unscented soap, use unscented deodorant, do our laundry with unscented detergent – all of which are more expensive – and dispense with the perfume and after-shave altogether.
At some point, someone has to ask how far are we expected to go and with what results. A number of years ago, a small family of foxes lived and played in a small green space behind the houses on the south side of Turner Drive. A small pathway, carved out of the grass by numerous feet, led through the space. In an attempt to make the small trail more accessible for the physically challenged, the township laid down a six-foot-wide swath of gravel. The result? A less aesthetic landscape – and no foxes.
The law of unintended consequences is forever present.