Every work-space has its own approach to office ailments. Some bosses will send you home at the first hint of a sniffle, recognizing that you could put the whole office out of commission. Others will insist you die at your desk, literally. After all, that’s what health benefits are for.

Whichever policy your business follows, reducing allergens and irritants is good for productivity. It minimizes sick days, cuts down health insurance expenses, and boosts office morale. It will also allow you to keep the office open longer, because pollen attacks in spring and bronchial problems in winter cause a lot of down time, which drains overall energy and efficiency.

Allergy audits

As any doctor will tell you, the only way you can tell you’re allergic to something is by being exposed to it. This is not light advice, because some allergic reactions can be fatal. However, in an office setting, you can’t resolve allergy problems until you know what’s triggering them. Common allergens include dust, pets, mold, fragrances, latex, food, and beauty products.

Combine surveys and physical inspections to identify the source of the irritant. Who keeps birds at home, or has small kids? Which perfumes or air fresheners are sprayed in the office? Which detergents do office cleaners use? Does the office coffee, tea, or muffin supply contain gluten or soy? Does anyone live near the dog pound, cat shelter, or zoo?

Dust and related allergens

The most common cause of colds and flus is an increase in dust due to weather changes, increased office population, or poor HVAC hygiene. More people means more organic dead cells. It’s not just office germs. Employees bring in germs from their kids and pets at home, plus everyone they interacted with during their commute.

The safest thing would be to install a decontamination chamber at the office entrance, but that’s impractical, expensive, and would probably freak out your staff. Instead, change air filters regularly to improve office circulation. This can help to extract and eliminate the majority of airborne contaminants. Clean the ducts professionally on a three-to-five-year cycle.

Beauty products and cleaning supplies

There’s no polite way to tell a female colleague (or even a stylish male one) that you’re allergic to their perfume, cologne, or make-up. Similarly, you can’t police beauty products without courting discrimination charges. In such cases, the best thing to do is identify what triggers the allergy and shift around seating positions. The team member who is particularly sensitive should have their desk moved to a more isolated part of the office and receive regular doses of antihistamines.

Cleaning products are a little easier to resolve. Test for latex allergies and replace rubber gloves with nitrile or vinyl. Soap allergies can cause headaches, and they can make your eyes and nose itch. Substitute an alternate product that is milder, or uses different constituents. Organic or green detergents are often hypo-allergenic.

Make your office an allergy-free zone by auditing it for irritants and contaminants. Clean your air ducts, offer free antihistamines, and replace allergenic cleaning products.