Pregnant at Work
When an employee tells her employer that she is pregnant, the employer has certain additional health and safety responsibilities towards her. Pregnancy is a part of normal everyday life, it not an illness. Many women work during pregnancy and many return to work while they are breastfeeding. Because there are some hazards in the workplace which may affect the health of the woman and of the developing child the Pregnant Employees Regulation of 2007 has been enacted to provide specific protection.
Employees must inform her employee that she is pregnant and provide an appropriate medical certificate of her condition. She may choose to inform her employer through her supervisor or by having a doctor directly contact the employer. As the earliest stages of pregnancy are the most critical ones for the developing child it is in the employee’s interest to let her employer know she is pregnant as soon as possible.
Pregnancy often goes undetected for the first 4-6 weeks, therefore generic risk assessments covering the work activities carried out by women of child bearing age should be carried out by the company. Health and safety legislation requires that specific risk assessments are carried out for new and expectant mothers. Where a risk to a pregnant employee, the foetus or, the mother and child in the case of pregnancy that has come to term, is identified every action possible should be taken to remove the risk. In the event that the risk cannot be removed then the employee’s working conditions or hours should be altered or the employee relocated to a job that is free from such risks. In the event that neither course of action is possible then the employee should be granted health and safety leave.
Once notified of a pregnancy, specific risk assessment relating to the pregnant workers’ work tasks should be carried out. These should be discussed with her and any alterations necessary to her work schedule agreed. The risk assessment should be reviewed on a regular basis during the pregnancy.
New and expectant mothers have differing requirements to some other workers.When determining the work activities in which a new or expectant mother will be engaged, conditions involving long periods of standing or sitting, or work within confined areas should be carefully considered. Work involving exposure to manual handling, passive smoking and occupational stress, extremes of temperature,shocks, vibration, noise, radiation, biological agents, chemicals and gas can lead to complications, particularly for expectant mothers. The new or expectant mothers’ ability to work at height and the associated risk to the woman and, in the case of expectant mothers, the unborn child should also be considered.
Working conditions may be altered in numerous ways. For example by:
- Providing the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing positions or provide rest breaks.
- Supplying lifting equipment to reduce manual handling.
- Restricting or re-allocating duties so that heavy objects are not lifted by new or expectant mothers.
- Introducing 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. Remember, pregnancy affects different women in different ways. Some women can cope easily with the pregnancy and others have problems all the way through their term. This is a factor which must be considered when dealing with the situation. You must also remember that pregnancy should not be considered as an illness.