In some workplaces, there are risks that may specifically affect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers and of their baby, and so there are special laws that employers must abide by to protect them.
Different working conditions, processes or substances may pose a particular risk to new and expectant mothers, and these risks can change depending on the mothers’ health and stage of pregnancy.
What are the common risks?
Some of the more common risks are:
- Standing or sitting for long periods of time
- Badly set-up workstations
- Work-related stress
- Long working hours
- Lifting or carrying heavy loads
- Working alone or at height
- Noise, shocks or vibrations
- Exposure to toxic chemicals or other chemical agents like mercury, carbon monoxide or lead
- Exposure to infectious diseases
What should I do as a mother to make sure myself and my baby are protected?
If you are pregnant, you have given birth in the last six months or you are breastfeeding, you are not required to tell your employer, but it is important for you and your baby’s safety that you do.
The earlier you give them written notification the better. Not only does it mean that everything can be sorted for your maternity leave, but it means that your employer can carefully consider what risks you are exposed to in your workplace, whether the risks can be removed and whether any adjustment to your hours or working conditions need to be made. You can also discuss arranging more frequent rest breaks.
If risks are identified that go beyond the normal level of risk that would be found outside the workplace and these risks can’t be removed, your employer may need to consider whether alternative work can be found for you or even if you need to be suspended on paid leave for a while to protect the health and safety of you and your baby.
If you have been given special advice from your doctor or midwife then you should give this information to your employer so that they can bear it in mind when they review their risk assessment.
The more open communication is between you and your employer the better, because it means that any issues or concerns can be dealt with quickly.
What do I need to do as an employer?
If an employee notifies you that they are pregnant or breastfeeding, you need to revisit your risk assessment to identify any areas of risk that the employee may be exposed to. If these are more than the normal level of risk that would be found outside the workplace, you then need to think about whether these risks can be removed or, if not, what adjustments need to be made to protect the employee.
If the risks can’t be removed, you may need to adjust the employee’s working conditions or working hours, find alternative work for them, or suspend them from work on paid leave until they are no longer at risk.
The risk assessment should be regularly reviewed at different stages of a pregnancy and as circumstances change, even if no risks were initially identified. The risk of damage to the baby may rise at different stages of pregnancy, and the mother’s agility, co-ordination, speed and reach may change as the pregnancy progresses.
You must provide suitable rest areas for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and the HSE recommends that you provide a private, healthy and safe place for nursing mothers to express and store milk.
How can I get help?
If an employee has told you that they are a new or expectant mother and you want help reviewing your risk assessment, or advice on what adjustments you can make to protect them, we can help.
Call us on +44 (0)141 244 0181 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.