Protection for pregnant employees - assessing and removing workplace risks

Mark Owen – Health & Safety Expert

November 16 2015

When the imminent arrival of a new baby is announced at work, congratulations are quickly communicated – but as an employer, your job doesn’t stop there. If the workplace represents any risks to a pregnant member of staff that exceeds the risk levels outside, then you have a responsibility to remove them... Assessing potential risks to an employee and their unborn child opens up a communication channel that should be maintained throughout the pregnancy, so that any new risks or concerns can be dealt with as they arise. Often, no action is needed in the early stages, but as the bump gets bigger, so too can the problems that mum-to-be faces – so you need to review the risk assessment periodically. Night working One change that must be put into effect straight away (if relevant) is to allow your employee to switch from night work to daytime shifts if they wish. If your business model or hours of operation means this isn’t an option, a medical certificate from her doctor to say that working at night could damage her health and safety leaves you with a legal obligation to put her on paid leave. Risks to consider So what should your risk assessment cover? Here are some more common issues that you should explore during the process:

  • Balance problems when working on slippery, wet surfaces and when working at height
  • Workstation adjustments to accommodate for the growing bump
  • 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
  • The potential for haemorrhoids, fainting and heat stress due to 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
  • Exposure to hazardous substances, radiation and physical hazards which could be detrimental to the unborn child

Removing the risks Any risks elevated by being in the workplace MUST be removed – this can be done in one of three ways:

  1. Temporarily adjusting her working conditions and hours of work
  2. Providing suitable alternative work – at the same rate of pay
  3. Suspending her from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect her health and safety and that of her child

Where possible, adjusting working conditions is probably the most favourable approach for both parties, so here are some ideas of how you can mitigate identified risks:

  • Providing the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing positions
  • 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
  • Excluding new and expectant mothers from the workplace or relocating them so that they are not exposed to infectious biological agents or harmful substances

Of course pregnancy affects every woman differently, which is why it’s essential to conduct individual assessments and ensure a regular review programme. Some expectant mothers will have problems throughout their term, while others may have very few – so keep talking, make changes where needed, and you’ll have happier staff and a more productive workplace.  

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