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In order to ensure a high standard, in 2005 Novozymes began implementing an ambitious new plan to prevent enzyme allergy. Preliminary results suggest that the increased awareness has led to a general improvement in occupational health and safety.

Like any other type of protein dust, enzyme dust can cause allergy if not managed correctly. Enzyme allergy can therefore be a challenge in both research environments and production units if management of occupational health and safety (OH&S) is not fully up to scratch. Measures to prevent allergy therefore include raising awareness among management and employees of the risks associated with working with enzymes.

Largest project to date
The new project to prevent allergy is Novozymes' single largest OH&S initiative yet. It began with the adoption of a set of global standards for working with enzymes, including concrete limit values for the amount of enzyme dust in buildings. Against this background employees have identified possible critical areas and come up with solutions.

The project is addressing both the way the workplace is organised, and the attitudes and behaviour of employees, including more consistent use of safety equipment and a sharper focus on hygiene. The monitoring of dust levels and allergy cases has also been stepped up.

All employees who work with enzymes at Novozymes are offered an annual test for enzyme allergy. The results and subsequent consultation are confidential, and it is up to the individual employee to decide how to use the advice. When job applicants are offered positions in research or production, they are also offered an allergy test so that they can weigh up the risk of allergy for themselves.

These efforts appear to have borne fruit in terms of dust levels, but it is still too early to draw any conclusions about the impact on the number of cases of allergy. The project started in the Danish part of the organisation in 2005 and will be rolled out to the rest of the world in 2006.

Fewer occupational accidents
In 2005 the number of occupational accidents with absence fell to 30, compared with 45 in 2004. This corresponds to a frequency of 4.6% in 2005, compared with 7.1 in 2004. It appears that the general increase in awareness of OH&S has led to safer behaviour and consequently fewer accidents.

Besides this sharper focus on enzyme allergy, the OH&S organisation was expanded into two specialised units in 2005. One, headed up by a doctor, has a medical bias and advises individual employees on any health problems, including allergy. The other focuses on managing and coordinating OH&S and preventive work.

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