Do your risk assessments cover pregnant staff?

Gavin Scarr Hall - Director of Health and Safety

May 03 2022

You have a legal duty to keep staff safe in the workplace. If you have pregnant staff, you need to take extra precautions to protect them from harm.

Your current risk assessment template might not cover all the hazards for pregnant workers. To keep all your staff safe and protect yourself from legal risk, here’s what to include in your risk assessment.

1. Physical hazards

Your staff might work in a risk-heavy sector, so it’s important to consider the physical hazards of:

  • handling heavy loads – staff who are pregnant or have recently given birth might struggle to lift things as they used to, and handling heavy loads poses a risk of injury
  • climbing steps, ladders, or heights – if a pregnant worker must climb steps or work at heights, there’s a risk of injury, fainting, and high blood pressure
  • a noisy environment – if pregnant workers are exposed to loud noise, it might lead to high blood pressure and fatigue
  • being exposed to shocks and vibrations – staff who drive vehicles for work might be exposed to shocks, vibrations, or excessive movement which may increase the risk of miscarriage

You should take steps to eliminate or reduce your pregnant worker’s exposure to physical risks. Do they need to climb ladders? Do they need to carry items or boxes? Discuss whether you need to change the responsibilities of their role temporarily. And if so, how this would work.

Measures to support pregnant staff may include:

  • providing alternative work
  • adjusting workstations
  • providing personal protective equipment (PPE) that is suitable and comfortable
  • working remotely
  • temporary suspension on full pay (only as a final resort if you can’t take any other protective measures)
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2. Exposure to chemicals and infections

Are your staff exposed to hazardous substances – such as chemicals, bacteria, and risks of infection?

There are 200 known chemicals that can cause harm to pregnant workers.

The people most at risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals and infections typically work in:

  • healthcare – healthcare staff may be exposed to infectious diseases
  • cleaning – cleaning agents and disinfectants contain harmful chemicals
  • construction – construction workers can be exposed to adhesives, bacteria, viruses, and toxic chemicals
  • the meat industry – pregnant staff may be exposed to toxoplasmosis if they handle raw or undercooked meat; an infection that may harm an unborn baby
  • health & beauty – beauticians and hairdressers may be exposed to irritants and chemicals in hair dyes and styling products

Pregnant staff might need to avoid exposure to hazardous substances altogether. In this case, you would need to consider alternative work or adjusting their role to reduce or remove the risks.

Your pregnant worker’s health and safety might be in danger in their line of work. You might not be able to remove risks, reduce risks, or provide alternative work. As a final resort, you can suspend your pregnant worker on medical grounds for as long as necessary. But you will need to provide full pay for up to 26 weeks of suspension.

3. Working conditions

If your worker is pregnant, review their working conditions. Your staff may work long hours. Or, they might carry out shift and night work. This can take a toll on pregnant workers – who may become exhausted from working, which isn’t good for them or the baby.

Other factors that can pose a risk to pregnant staff include:

  • standing up for too long – they might experience dizziness, faintness, and fatigue if they stand for long periods of time
  • sitting in one position for too long – particularly in the later stages of pregnancy, sitting in one position for too long might cause backache
  • being stuck in a confined space – workers in confined spaces who have limited movement might end up straining or injuring themselves
  • temperature – pregnant workers are more likely to feel uncomfortable in hot or cold temperatures
  • working long or irregular hours – pregnant workers may not be able to work long or irregular hours due to increasing tiredness

You may need to adjust your working conditions to help pregnant staff feel more comfortable. This might be:

  • providing comfortable PPE to protect pregnant workers from extreme temperatures
  • offering flexible working (flexitime, late start and early finishes)
  • providing a quiet place for pregnant workers to rest
  • providing easy access to toilet facilities
  • providing frequent and longer breaks
  • providing seating where possible

Need to update your risk assessments?

Your current risk assessment might not cover all risks to pregnant staff. So, you might want to consider setting up a pregnancy-specific risk assessment. This will help you identify all the risks and hazards that may pose a threat to pregnant workers. So, you can take action to reduce or remove them where possible.

Whether you want to set up a new risk assessment or amend your current one, your documentation experts are here to help. Just contact your adviser today.

And if you’re not yet a Peninsula client, get a quote to start accessing unlimited 24-hour HR and health & safety advice, risk assessment support, health & safety reviews, and more.

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Your health & safety experts will provide on-site support to identify and eliminate risks in your workplace.

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