Odour and sense of smell

Clothes peg upon human nose

Source: makuba, fotolia

Many of the complaints presented by indoor workers are due to odour. However it is not possible to draw any health-related conclusions about an odour merely by perceiving it. Even if a human perceives a smell as being very strong it can still be lower than the analytical detection limit for that specific substance. Conversely, it is not always possible to detect all potentially hazardous substances by their smell. It is therefore important to take seriously any reports of unusual odours. They may be an indication that the air quality or other ambient conditions at the workplace are not as they should be.

The pertinent legal requirement can be found in Section 3.6, "Ventilation", of the Annex to the German Workplace Ordinance. It states that the amount of healthy, breathable air in enclosed workrooms must be sufficient for the work processes, the level of physical strain and the number of employees and other persons present. Odour annoyance must therefore be avoided as far as the nature of the organisation's operations permits. As a rule, this means there must not be any unwanted odour emissions from products (e.g. construction chemicals), equipment (e.g. laser printers/copiers) or systems (e.g. ventilation and air conditioning systems).

The vaporization of aromatic oils in aroma lamps and HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation and Air Condition) presents problems. These oils can trigger sensitization and later lead to allergic reactions and possibly even asthma attacks.


Dr Simone Peters

Hazardous substances: handling, protective measures

Tel: +49 30 13001-3320
Fax: +49 30 13001-38001