EpiPens should be mandatory in public places – they are no different from other safety devices

No one wants to have an allergic reaction or other health problem in public. But it appears the Ontario Ministry of Health is prioritizing those who deserve access to public safety devices.

Half of Canadian households struggle with food allergies on a daily basis, but the Ontario government has done little to help people with severe allergies feel safe in public spaces. This includes bars, transportation services, entertainment venues and workplaces.

Defibrillators, fire extinguishers and first aid kits have been made mandatory in public spaces by provincial leaders in recent years. However, EpiPens are excluded from this list of safety devices. Why?

An EpiPen is a self-injection device that contains epinephrine, a medicine that helps control a severe allergic reaction. They are most effective when used immediately because they save time until first responders arrive on the scene. It is no different from other safety devices which are crucial when needed.

Municipalities must also do more. In 2017, Toronto City Council considered – and decided not to – requiring all restaurants to wear EpiPens. Some arguments the council heard from corporate lobbyists against the proposal: Epinephrine injectors eventually expire, making them difficult to track and maintain; additional training in the use of the injector would be necessary; people with allergies should not shift their responsibility for transporting injectors to small businesses.

It’s hard to believe that Toronto City Council agreed that the two-step “sky blue, thigh orange” two-step application of EpiPens would require a prohibitive amount of training. After all, defibrillators are more complex to administer than EpiPens – and more expensive.

Yes, people with allergies should also take responsibility for their allergies when eating in public places. But allergies aren’t always known until a reaction occurs, in which case having an EpiPen on hand could save a life.

Some restaurants don’t even try to make people with allergies feel safe and often take the blame away. They make the usual “we won’t be able to guarantee it” statements, leaving people to feel lonely if something bad happens to them.

While mandatory EpiPens are the best way to make people with allergies feel less anxious about dining out, restaurants can help them in other ways.

Menus that highlight key allergens in menu items shouldn’t have to be requested – they should already be on tables before guests arrive, like wine or dessert menus. In addition, waiters should automatically ask if there are any allergies to avoid at the table.

People with allergies sometimes feel embarrassed to be singled out when they talk about their allergies, which is why asking restaurants to initiate this first step makes it easier for them.

Talking about allergies and raising awareness of what can happen during a severe allergic reaction should be normalized. Everyone is human and we all have accidents, but accidents can have less serious consequences when safety measures are in place.

Alexia Baggetta is a third year undergraduate student specializing in Media, Information and Technoculture at Western University.

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