How to make your workplace safe for pregnant staff

Russell Corlett - Health and Safety Director

January 14 2020

When do you think you need to prepare your workplace for a new or expectant mother?

It’s not the day they return to work. It’s not right before the due date. It’s not even when they tell you they’re pregnant.

The truth is, if you employ staff of child-bearing age, you must assess the hazards & risks to a new and expectant mother and her unborn child. Even if no one is pregnant.

Here’s what you need to do now to protect your staff…

Remove workplace risks

By law, you must do a risk assessment of the hazards that might harm people at work.

For pregnant staff, risks will vary depending on the work they do. But common dangers include:

  •         Lifting heavy loads
  •         Standing or sitting still for a long time
  •         Poor posture
  •         Work-related stress
  •         Exposure to hazardous materials

To control each risk, ask yourself, “Can I get rid of it altogether?”

If you can’t, ask, “How can I change it so that harm is unlikely?”

Then, record your findings, explain the risks to your workforce, and put appropriate safety measures into place.

If an employee becomes pregnant and you can't make suitable changes, you must offer them safe alternative work at the same rate of pay.

If that's not possible, you'll have to suspend the worker, on paid leave, to protect both mother and child.

You might find that your workplace is safe enough for the pregnant worker to continue as normal. But remember:

Risks may change as the pregnancy progresses.

Reviewing risks during pregnancy

Pregnancy affects women in different ways. For some, it may even make otherwise low-risk tasks dangerous. For example:

  •         The worker’s mobility might decline
  •         Workstations may no longer fit their body shape
  •         Hormonal and physical changes could cause extra stress

So you need to monitor the risks to meet the needs of your worker at every stage of her pregnancy.

It’s worth asking the employee for input, as she can tell you about any personal issues that could make some risks extra dangerous.  

A risk assessment is important to keep your pregnant worker safe. But it also helps to keep your business safe from claims of discrimination. Here’s why…

Pregnancy discrimination

In 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that failure to do a risk assessment for a pregnant worker is unlawful. And while the UK is due to leave the EU shortly, its laws continue to apply.

In fact, failure to look after a pregnant worker’s health & safety also counts as pregnancy discrimination in the UK under the Equality Act 2010.

The Act allows staff to take action against employers in an employment tribunal. If the worker can prove that you’d discriminated against them, there’s no limit to the amount of money a tribunal could force you to pay out. 

So you need to act now to protect your staff and your business.

Your next steps

Start by making sure your risk assessments are up to date and thorough. Remember, you need to look at risks to pregnant workers even if no one is pregnant.

Then, think about updating your company’s health & safety policies to include safe working procedures for pregnant staff. Watertight policies that explain your business’s safety approach will help you avoid accidents, disputes, and costly claims.

Finally, it may be worth arranging a workplace visit from a health & safety expert. Peninsula’s SafeCheck service includes a full audit of your business and a detailed report on how to keep staff safe and meet UK health & safety laws.

To learn more, speak to an adviser today on 0800 028 2420.

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