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Pregnant Workers and New and Nursing Mothers  - Risk Assessments

Regulation 16 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

Protecting Women Who May be Pregnant

Regulation 16 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires an employer to determine whether work place practises would place a new or pregnant mother or her baby at risk.  As it can take several weeks for a woman to realise she is pregnant, this in effect means that an employer must take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that no female workers are exposed to risks that may be hazardous to pregnant mothers or mothers who have just given birth or to their babies. This includes physical and emotional risks and exposure to biological or chemical or other hazardous substances.

The phrase ‘new or expectant mother’ means an employee who is pregnant, who has given birth within the previous six months, or who is breastfeeding.  ‘Given birth’ is defined in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations as ‘delivered a living child or, after 24 weeks of pregnancy, a stillborn child’.

In most cases, controlling common workplace risks appropriately will reduce the need for special action for new and expectant mothers.

Exposure limits for hazardous substances and other agents are set at levels which should not put a pregnant or breastfeeding worker, or her child, at risk. In some cases, there are lower exposure levels for pregnant workers, or for women of childbearing capacity, than for other workers.

Women Known to be Pregnant or a New Mother

Once an employer is notified that a woman is pregnant or a new mother, then an additional risk assessment must be undertaken that is personal to that employee and the appropriate accommodations made, including, if necessary, a change in working practices, hours or other factors.  If the risks cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level, the employee must be suspended from the work involved or reassigned. 

These steps must be taken once an employee has given her employer notice in writing that she is pregnant, has given birth within the last six months or is breastfeeding.  If the employee informs her employer that she is pregnant for the purpose of any other statutory requirements, such as statutory maternity pay, this will be sufficient for the purpose of these regulations.

Employers may request confirmation of the pregnancy by means of a certificate from a registered medical practitioner or a registered midwife in writing. If this certificate has not been produced within a reasonable period of time, the employer is not bound to maintain changes to working hours or conditions or to maintain paid leave. A reasonable period of time will allow for all necessary medical examinations and tests to be completed.

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1922 you are required to provide suitable facilities for workers who are pregnant or breastfeeding to rest.

Nursing/Breastfeeding Mothers

Employers need to ensure that those workers who are breastfeeding are not exposed to risks that could damage their health and safety or that of the baby for as long as they continue to breastfeed. If the employee continues to breastfeed for more than six months after the birth she should ensure that the employer is informed of this, so that the appropriate measures can continue to be taken.

Known Hazards

The physical, biological and chemical agents, processes and working conditions which may affect the health and safety of new or expectant mothers are set out in the Regulations. They include the following possible hazards.

Physical risks
Movements and postures
Manual handling
Shocks and vibrations
Radiation (ionising and non-ionising)
Compressed air and diving
Underground mining work

Working conditions
Location and Number of Facilities (including rest rooms)
Mental and physical fatigue and working hours
Stress (including postnatal depression)
Passive smoking
Working alone
Work at heights
Working and personal protective equipment

In most cases, controlling common workplace risks appropriately will reduce the need for special action for new and expectant mothers until notified that a particular woman is pregnant when these risk factors can be reconsidered in light of her particular circumstances.

Additional Known Hazards:

Biological agents - Infectious diseases

Chemical agents - Toxic chemicals, Mercury, Antimitotic (cytotoxic) drugs, Pesticides, Carbon monoxide, Lead

All of these are listed in the annexes to the European Directive on the health and safety of pregnant workers (92/85/EEC) and the European Commission’s guidelines.  Many of these are already covered by specific health and safety regulations such as the Control of Lead at Work Regulations (CLAW) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).

If any of these hazards are present in your workplace you should refer to the relevant regulations or guidance for information on what you should do to protect new or pregnant workers.

 Display Screen Equipment

There has been considerable public concern about reports of higher levels of miscarriage and birth defects among some groups of visual display unit (VDU) workers, in particular due to electromagnetic radiation. Many scientific studies have been carried out, but taken as a whole, the HSE takes the view that their results do not show any link between miscarriages or birth defects and working with VDUs. Research and reviews of scientific evidence will continue to be undertaken by the HSE.

Night Work

Where an employee works nights and produces a certificate from a registered medical practitioner or a registered midwife showing that it is necessary for her health and safety not to work nights, you should suspend her from that work for the period identified in the certificate. The Employment Rights Act 1996 requires that suitable alternative daytime work on the same terms and conditions should be offered before suspending the woman from work.

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Additional Reading:

New and Expectant Mothers at Work
A Guide for New and Expectant Mothers Who Work