Is There A Law About Bad Smells?

Question:

Does the law state anywhere that is there is a bad smell eg, moldy milk or feces that workers can go home?

Signed,

Holding My Nose


Answer:

DearĀ Holding My Nose:

I see that you are from outside the U.S., so there may be a different law there. However, the key in most places is not the smell but the cause of the smell and whether it is harmful to humans. If a smell is temporary (an accident or unexpected problem) most employers find it easier to let people leave for an afternoon or day, than to have them not working because they more focused on the bad smell. But, they are usually not required to let employees leave under those circumstances.

If a smell is bad and is going to stay that way beecause of the nature of the work (a sewage plant, dog food company or similar business) or because of area smells (a feed lot or fertilizer plant nearby) the employees will need to work with the employer to find ways to reduce the offensiveness of it. (Vents, fans and room freshners, for example.) But, if the smell is caused by something unhealthy (toilets overflowing, open pipes with sewage gas, spoiled food or bacteria-producing agents) then the health and safety laws may be involved.

So, first identify what is causing the smell and find out if it is harmful. Then, check with the appropriate government resource to see if there is a law about it. In the United States that would be Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Department of Labor for each state.

In the meantime, is there any way to lessen the odor in your work area? Consider lowering the temperature of the room somewhat. Fans that keep air moving will help. Use plug-in fragrances that aren’t sickeningly strong themselves. Light a fragranced candle or use a fragrance oil if that is allowed in your work area. Even such things as using a fragranced hand lotion or putting a dab of fragranced lotion on your face, can be helpful.

Or, perhaps the area where the odor is coming from can be vented better or could have something done to help it.

One thing is for sure, law or no law, no one can work as well if they are grossed out by a smell. But, how that smell is handled varies according to the circumstances. Work with other employees, your employer and any government resource you have, to make things better. Don’t just talk to your immediate supervisor if that isn’t being helpful. Go as high in the company as you have to, to make sure people are aware of the problem.

If you are writing because you are an employer and wonder what to do about complaints, this material is just as applicable.

Best wishes with this problem!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.