Anaphylactic Shock in the Workplace: Prevention, Recognition, and Response

Anaphylactic shock in the workplace

Anaphylactic shock in the workplace is a critical and often underestimated aspect of employee safety.

With hospital admissions for anaphylactic shock in adults rising from 3,751 to 4,756 between 2019 and 2020 and allergy-related adult hospitalisations more than doubling since 2013, reaching a record high of 27,172 in 2019/2020, the severity and prevalence of these incidents cannot be overlooked. ¹

This article aims to bring attention to this life-threatening allergic reaction and emphasize the importance of first aid at work courses and the connection between COVID-19 vaccinations.

By fostering a proactive approach to workplace safety and equipping staff with the necessary skills, organizations can prevent and manage anaphylactic shock, ultimately saving lives and promoting a secure working environment.

adrenaline auto-injectors

Anaphylactic Shocking UK Statistics

The prevalence of anaphylactic shock in the UK is particularly alarming, with approximately 1,903 individuals admitted to hospital each year due to adverse food reactions alone.²

In the following sections, we will shed light on the most frequent triggers of anaphylaxis to help raise awareness and promote prevention strategies.

We will uncover the 10 most common causes of anaphylaxis, the 10 foods most likely to induce anaphylactic reactions, and medicines you might have in your first-aid kit that can trigger anaphylaxis.

By understanding these risk factors, individuals and organizations can better identify potential hazards, develop targeted prevention measures, and minimise the incidence of anaphylactic shock in the workplace and beyond.

Anaphylactic Shocking UK Statistics

7 Most Common Causes of Anaphylaxis

The infographic below showcases the 7 most common anaphylactic shock causes, including rubber latex, insect stings, and specific medications.

It’s important to remember that workplace environments and industries vary widely, but understanding these life-threatening triggers is crucial for everyone.

Health and safety training should always include anaphylaxis awareness, especially in settings where these common causes may be more prevalent. So, whether working in a hospital, an office, or even outdoors, being informed and prepared to handle anaphylactic reactions can be the difference between life and death!

7 Most Common Causes of Anaphylaxis

10 Foods Most Likely To Cause Anaphylaxis

10 Foods Most Likely To Cause Anaphylaxis

The above infographic presents the 10 Foods Most Likely to Cause Anaphylaxis, providing valuable insights into the primary culprits behind food-induced allergic reactions.

These data points are particularly important in light of NHS Digital’s Hospital Episode Statistics for England, Admitted Patient Care Statistics for 2021-22, which revealed 1,845 cases of anaphylactic shock resulting from adverse food reactions.

By familiarizing ourselves with these common triggers, we can raise awareness about the significance of food-induced allergies and better understand how to mitigate risks associated with these allergens in the workplace, at home, and in public spaces.

hospital scenes treating a patient with Anaphylactic Shock

Medicines That Can Trigger Anaphylaxis

According to NHS Digital, Hospital Episode Statistics for England, Admitted Patient Care Statistics, 2021-22, there were 477 anaphylaxis emergencies caused by the adverse effect of the correct drug or medicament properly administered.

Some medicines can cause severe allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis. These include certain antibiotics (especially ones similar to penicillin), some medicines used during surgery (general anesthetic), and specific painkillers called NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and aspirin.

If you’re sensitive to these, you could react as soon as you start taking them, even if you’ve used them safely before. That’s why you shouldn’t give out painkillers in a work environment, as it could cause a medical emergency. ³

COVID-19 & Increased Cases Of Severe Allergic Reactions

Among all the ingredients officially listed in the COVID-19 vaccine, one called ALC-0159 may cause allergic reactions because it contains something called polyethylene glycol (PEG), also known as macrogol. PEG is a type of material that’s used in many everyday products, including medicines, beauty products, and even some foods.

Though severe allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis) to PEG have been rare in the past, there has been a noticeable rise in these cases recently. This seems to be linked to the use of certain medications or personal care products that contain PEG.

Recently, the most significant group of PEG-related allergic reactions has been observed in people who’ve had severe allergic reactions to medicines containing this material. PEG has been identified as a high-risk hidden allergen—it’s in a lot of drug and food products and can trigger hard-to-spot allergic reactions. As a result, it might be causing more allergies than healthcare providers realize.⁴

UK Hospital Admissions for allergy and analphylaxsis in over 19 year olds

Simon Williams, Chief Executive of Anaphylaxis UK, said:

“It is worrying for us to see that the number of admissions to hospitals for allergy and anaphylaxis has once again begun to rise following the COVID-19 pandemic decrease. These figures show the importance of continuing to raise awareness of serious allergies and the need for more research to help us understand why the prevalence of allergies continues to increase. Our ongoing aim is to create a safe environment for all people with allergies by working with and educating those in schools, universities, the food industry, healthcare professionals, and other key audiences.” ⁵

Lynne Regent, Chief Executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, highlights the importance of empowering young people in managing their allergies, as 16 to 24-year-olds represent the most at-risk group. By working with key stakeholders like schools, universities, the food industry, and healthcare professionals, we can create a safer environment for everyone, regardless of their allergy status. ⁶

COVID-19 & Increased Cases Of Severe Allergic Reactions

Protecting Your Team From The Risk Of Anaphylaxis

As a UK business owner, addressing the risk of workplace anaphylaxis is crucial for maintaining a safe environment. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, it’s your responsibility to create a workspace where employees can perform their duties securely.

So make sure to conduct a workplace risk assessment and develop an allergy management guide to support employees with allergies. The HSE offers valuable guidance on risk assessments.

  • To minimize anaphylaxis risks, be aware of employees with allergies, establish safe food storage areas, and inform outside caterers of food allergies.
  • Educate employees about the consequences of allergy-related “pranks” and provide a separate space for coats and jackets to reduce allergen exposure.
  • Ensure some team members are first aid trained and knowledgeable about allergic reactions.
  • Maintain proper ventilation while accommodating employees with hay fever by keeping windows closed during peak pollen times.
  • Offer training sessions, such as the AllergyWise e-learning course, to enhance allergy and anaphylaxis understanding.
  • Finally, keep workplace plants well-maintained to prevent mould growth.⁷

Protecting Your Team From The Risk Of Anaphylaxis

First Aid Training – The Key to Saving Lives

First aid training is essential in saving lives, especially when it comes to recognizing and responding to anaphylactic shock at work. Equipping employees with the skills to identify and react promptly to an allergic reaction can make all the difference in preventing severe outcomes.

Anaphylaxis symptoms often involve difficulty breathing, heart rhythm irregularities, and blood pressure fluctuations. In severe cases, anaphylaxis can lead to a dramatic drop in blood pressure, weakness, and even unconsciousness.

The ABC symptoms (airway, breathing, and circulation) can help identify anaphylaxis: airway issues include throat, tongue, or upper airway swelling; breathing problems manifest as wheezing or breathing difficulty; and circulation issues can cause dizziness, fainting, confusion, or loss of consciousness. ⁸

By understanding these symptoms and taking first aid courses, employees can act swiftly and effectively during an anaphylactic emergency.

Emerade Pen Urgent Recall

Pharmaswiss Česka republika s.r.o. and Bausch & Lomb UK Limited have recalled all batches of Emerade adrenaline auto-injectors due to concerns about malfunction or premature activation.

The MHRA and DHSC have ensured sufficient alternative auto-injector supplies for a patient-level recall. A single EpiPen or Jext pen can replace an Emerade pen.

After obtaining replacements, return in-date Emerade pens to a pharmacy and receive proper training on using the new devices, as each brand has unique instructions. Patients should carry two adrenaline pens at all times. Training materials for EpiPen and Jext devices are available online:

EpiPen devices:

Jext devices:

For more information regarding the Emerade pen urgent recall, please visit MHRA.

First Aid Training – The Key to Saving Lives

Final Thoughts

Under Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981, employers are obliged to provide sufficient equipment and suitably qualified personnel to ensure that anyone injured or falling ill at work can receive the attention they need in a prompt and appropriate manner.

The law applies to all workplaces, including those with five or fewer workers, as well as to the self-employed, and includes providing health and safety training to identify the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis. Ensuring that employees are well-equipped to handle emergencies can be life-saving and create a safer work environment for everyone.