Hay fever season – effects of antihistamines on workplace safety

As spring gets into full swing and the grass is growing and the trees are in flower many of us will start to feel the effects of hay fever. A trip to the pharmacist very quickly provides us with the antihistamines we need to help alleviate the symptoms.

This can have an impact to workplace health and safety due to the risks involved in taking potentially impairing medication. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness in those who take them and indeed some are used as a short-term solution for insomnia.

A lot of the newer antihistamines on sale for pharmacists have reduced the effects of drowsiness for those who take them, however they can still cause drowsiness for some individuals, particularly when taken in combination with other medication.

A workplace drug and alcohol policy should include the step an employer takes to minimise the risks associated with drug use and misuse. In addition to the use of illicit drugs this should include guidelines that cover the use of medication.

It should be clear to employees that they should declare any medication they are taking that has the potential to impair their work (including the possibility of drowsiness). Employers can then make appropriate adjustments to their work activities to reduce the risks to them, their colleagues and the public.

Employees have a responsibility to make their GP or pharmacist aware of the nature of their work, and to find out if there are any potential effects from the medication they are taking, or any combined effects from different medication taken together. Even if an antihistamine is marketed as non-drowsy the onus is on the individual to not drive or operate machinery if the feel drowsy.

Employers can use a medication checking service that will provide advice on whether an employee can work alone on a safety critical task or must work supervised or not at all based on the medication they are taking.

Peter Akrill
Senior Toxicologist

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