Consideration of workplace hazards and risk management
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) identifies the hazards which present potential risks to new or expectant mothers. All existing risk assessments for work with dangerous chemicals, human pathogens, ionising radiation and work processes should anticipate the potential for exposure harm during pregnancy. If there is a possibility that a woman of child bearing age is to be involved/exposed to the hazard, they should be made aware of this potential and control measures put in place before it becomes a problem. The existing risk assessment procedures for chemical biological and radiation hazards will facilitate this. Additionally, work which is not generally deemed hazardous may need further assessment to protect their health and wellbeing.
The HSE guide for new and expectant mothers who work, sets out to answer some of the questions you may have about continuing to work whilst pregnant or about returning to work after giving birth.
Risk Assessment Process
Staff or students should inform their Line Manager/ Academic Supervisor in writing as soon as possible after receiving confirmation that they are pregnant. While many women may prefer not to do so in the early stages, it may be necessary if they work with hazards which pose a risk to health. New mothers should inform their Line Manager in advance of their returning to work if they are still breastfeeding. Individuals who are planning a pregnancy and are aware that the substances they are working with have potential to cause harm, should contact Occupational Health for advice.
Upon notification that an employee is pregnant or breastfeeding, the Line Manager should carry out a New and Expectant Mother Risk Assessment. This form includes all categories of activity undertaken by an individual which may need consideration. It will supplement pre-existing risk assessments for the work and may also cover some areas which have not previously been considered. This information is needed to make decisions on how to manage those risks so that the decisions are made in an informed, rational and structured manner, and the action taken is proportionate to the risk.
Pregnancy Risk Management Process
Working with computers
- Risk management: Postural problems may arise during the latter stages of pregnancy. It is important that the member of staff can regularly change position to minimise potential for developing postural problems. They need adequate lumbar support, and may require a foot rest to ensure good posture. Any member of staff who is concerned about their work with computers, can seek advice from the departmental Computer Health Assessor.
- Risk management: You will need to take account of known organisational stress factors (such as shift patterns, job insecurity, workloads, etc.) and the particular medical and psychosocial factors affecting the individual woman. Protective measures may include adjustments to working conditions or working hours, and ensuring understanding, support and recognition is available when the woman returns to work, whilst respecting privacy. Confidential Care can provide emotional support and practical advice to assist with stress management.
Mental and physical fatigue
- Risk management: Where work involves new or expectant mothers moving around the premises, it must be ensured that hours of work and the volume and pacing of work are not excessive and that where possible, there is some local control over how their work is organised. More frequent rest breaks will help to avoid or reduce fatigue.
Travelling for work
- Risk management: Review work activities which require her to travel. Refer to the off site working policy for more information. Alteration of working hours to avoid travelling during the rush hour may help manage fatigue.
- Risk management: If a woman works alone while pregnant, it is essential to consider what help and support is available when required, and that local emergency procedures take into account the needs of new and expectant mothers. Refer to the lone working policy and local arrangements.
Personal protective equipment
- Risk management: If PPE fit and comfort becomes a problem during pregnancy alternatives should be sourced. If no suitable alternative available, other work should be found.
- Risk management: Refer to workplace temperature for more information. Provision of adequate rest and refreshment breaks with unrestricted access to drinking water. New and expectant mothers should note that thirst is not an early indicator of heat stress. If the ambient temperature is affected due to the external temperature, normal heating or cooling provisions must be considered (cool air movement or provision of warm clothing). If this does not help, alternative arrangements must be made.
Working at heights
- Risk management: A risk assessment should consider any additional risks due to work at height (e.g. working on platforms/ladders).
- Risk management: Special consideration needs to be given to new and expectant mothers who work at night. If a new or expectant mothers produces a medical certificate stating that night work could affect her health, she should be offered alternative day time work.
- Risk management: The risk assessment should be reviewed by the Radiation Protection Advisor. Please refer to the Ionising Radiation Code of Practice for Female workers.
- Risk management: Pregnant workers may be at increased risk from manual handling injury. Hormonal changes can increase susceptibility to injury, and postural problems may arise as the pregnancy progresses. Risk continues for up to 3 months after delivery.
- Risk management: There is no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding alone places mothers at greater risk from manual handling injury. You should consult your departmental Manual Handling Assessor for advice.
Adverse movements and postures
- Risk management: Exposure to electric and magnetic fields should not exceed the restrictions on human exposure published by the National Radiological Protection Board. Exposure to electric and magnetic fields within current recommendations is not known to cause harm to the foetus or the mother. However, exposure to high levels of radio-frequency radiation could cause harm by raising body temperature.
- Review COSHH Assessment to assess if the individual is exposed to substances, which carry the following risk phrases:
|H340||May cause genetic defects|
|H341||Suspected of causing genetic defects|
|H360||May damage fertility or the unborn child|
|H361||Suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child|
|H361d||Suspected of damaging the unborn child|
|H362||May cause harm to breast-fed children|
The actual risk to health of these substances can only be determined by carrying out a risk assessment of a particular work activity - i.e. although the substances listed may have the potential to endanger health or safety, there may be no risk in practice, for example if exposure is below a level which might cause harm. If there is potential for exposure to substances which carry these risk phrases contact Occupational Health for advice.
Additionally, where there is deliberate use of the following substances, the risk must be controlled:
Mercury and its derivatives may adversely affect the developing foetus.
Carbon monoxide crosses the placental membrane and can have adverse effects on the foetus.
- Review Risk Assessment for all work involving exposure to biological agents.
For most workers, the risk of infection is not higher at work than from living in the community. But in certain jobs, exposure to infections is more likely, for example laboratory workers, health care, people working with animals.
Some biological agents are known to cause abortion of the foetus or physical and neurological damage. For example rubella and toxoplasma can harm the foetus. Again the risks of infection are generally no higher for workers than others, except in those exposed occupations.
Work involving potential exposure to pathogens which cause harm to the foetus should not be permitted. Women who have been vaccinated against or are known to be immune to pathogens such as rubella and toxoplasma will be able to continue in their work.
Less prevalent hazards
- The potential for violence at work should be identified and controlled particularly in pregnancy, as physical assault can result in placental detachment, miscarriage, premature delivery and it may impair a mother's ability to breastfeed.
Shock and vibration
- Shocks, vibration and movement may cause increased risk of miscarriage. If this identified as a potential hazard contact, occupational health for advice.
Hyperbaric atmosphere and scuba diving
- Scuba diving whilst pregnant may cause severe foetal damage and is therefore not recommended.
In light of our lack of understanding of this subject that the UK Sport Diving Medical Committee recommends that if a woman is trying to become pregnant or is pregnant and wants to be quite sure that any problem with the pregnancy and the child cannot be attributed to scuba diving, don't do it.
UK Sport Diving Medical Committee
Occupational health provides specialist advice on health protection measures for work with pathogens, genetically modified organisms, other biological agents and for work with particularly hazardous chemicals. We also will provide help with pregnancy risk assessments and for fieldwork. Standard advice and risk assessment templates are available on the OH web pages for manual handling and for computer work.
The Safety Department produces guidance and risk assessment templates for chemical and biological hazards, physical hazards and for off-site work. Anyone needing OH assistance with assessment of health risks should first use the available risk assessment forms to identify hazards and exposure potential before contacting occupational health.