Protecting pregnant employees through Risk Assessments

Mark Owen – Health & Safety Expert

September 21 2015

As soon as an employer becomes aware that an employee is pregnant you should involve the employee in an assessment of the risks to them and their unborn child whilst at work. If there are risks above the level of risk outside the workplace you must take action to remove the risk, either by;
  • Temporarily adjusting her working conditions and hours of work; or
  • Providing suitable alternative work –at the same rate of pay; or
  • Suspending her from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect her health and safety and that of her child.
The initial assessment should be reviewed regularly as the pregnancy develops; more often than not issues arise in the later stages. If you become aware of the pregnancy in its early stages immediate action may not be required If the employee normally works at night there are specific regulations that require you to offer suitable alternative daytime work. If this is not possible and she presents a medical certificate stating that continued night work could affect her health or safety she must be given paid leave. The issues to be considered during the risk assessment will include;
  • balance may pose problems when working on slippery, wet surfaces and when working at height;
  • the workstation may need to be adjusted as the foetus grows;
  • personal protective equipment which may become too small;
  • dexterity, agility and speed of movement may be affected;
  • seating must be accessible, comfortable and allow frequent changes of posture;
  • Haemorrhoids, fainting and heat stress may be caused by working in hot conditions.
  • tiredness;
  • prolonged standing and hot work environments may result in dizziness and fainting;
  • early morning shifts and an increased sensitivity to workplace odours may cause nausea;
  • noise exposure may increase blood pressure and tiredness;
  • expectant mothers may be more susceptible to occupational stress as pregnancy related anxiety, hormonal, physiological and psychological changes occur;
  • exposure to passive smoking;
  • lone-working;
  • the risk of work-related violence; and
  • Exposure to hazardous substances, radiation and physical hazards which could be detrimental to the unborn child.
Taking account any issues identified adjust the working conditions to reduce the risks to the employee and their foetus. These might include:
  • providing the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing positions or more frequent rest breaks;
  • avoiding exposure to radiation;
  • restricting exposure to hazardous substances;
  • increasing their working space;
  • supplying lifting equipment to reduce manual handling;
  • restricting or re-allocating duties so that heavy objects do not have to be lifted;
  • improving control measures such as physical containment, hygiene practices and vaccination to protect against biological hazards; and
  • Excluding new and expectant mothers from the workplace or relocating them so that they are not exposed to infectious biological agents or harmful substances.
Always remember that pregnancy affects different women in different ways. Some have problems all the way through their term, whereas others have very few. This is why individual assessments and regular reviews are essential. By working together and taking the appropriate action potential risks and problems to both business and expectant mother will be minimised. For further information on Pregnancy Risk Assessments, please contact our Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

Suggested Resources