The demands of pregnancy
Pregnancy can be an exciting period, though it is both physically and mentally demanding on the individual. The rapid changes that occur during this time need careful consideration to ensure employers can effectively manage the health and safety of pregnant workers and new mothers.
Pregnancy is one of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010, meaning it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against someone because they are pregnant, breast feeding or have recently given birth.
Risks and advice to employers
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently updated its advice regarding pregnant workers and new mothers meaning employers should now undertake a risk assessment for employees who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who have given birth in the last 6 months.
As a pregnancy progresses, there may be impacts on:
- Speed of movement
If a significant risk is identified to the worker or their child, then their employer should decide whether the risk can be removed or appropriately controlled. If not, then one of 3 actions should be undertaken:
- Adjust the working conditions or hours to avoid the risk
- Give them suitable alternative work
- Suspend them on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect the health and safety of them and their child.
Pregnancy can therefore increase the risk of a particular hazard causing harm. These may include factors such as posture (sitting or standing for long periods), lifting, and carrying heavy loads, long working hours, stress, noise and temperature, lone working and working at height.
Furthermore, exposure to harmful substances should be considered, ranging from chemicals such as lead and pesticides to radiation and infectious diseases.
How to address the potential issue
Every workplace is different, and every pregnancy is unique, so making sure that the individual risk assessment is tailored to this is essential.
While companies often have very skilled staff who are well equipped to undertake such risk assessments, however in particularly complex cases having specialist occupational health advice can be advantageous in making sure that your company is not only meeting its responsibilities, but also allowing your workers to remain healthy and productive.