Law guide: Workplace

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Pregnancy and health and safety

Pregnancy and health and safety

In addition to their general duties to the health and safety of their workers, an employer has a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all women of child bearing age and pregnant mothers at work. This includes workers who could be pregnant as well as those who an employer knows is pregnant.

Risk assessments

An employer should carry out a specific health and safety risk assessment taking both preventive and protective measures for female workers within this group.

They should take all reasonable and practical steps to:

  • Avoid risks, such as removing or preventing exposure to the hazards
  • Reduce or remove any unavoidable risks
  • Adapt the workplace or equipment for a worker
  • Develop an overall prevention policy covering such matters as work conditions, working environment and organisation of work.

Some substances, processes and working conditions may affect human fertility as well as pose a risk to a pregnant worker and/or her unborn child. Therefore, an employer must think about the health of women of childbearing age (whether or not they are pregnant), not just those who they know are pregnant.

In particular, an employer should undertake a risk assessment if there is a possibility of exposure to any of the following risks:

  • Physical agents such as shock, vibration or movement, manual handling, travel, mental and physical fatigue or other physical burdens, excessive mental or physical pressure, extremes of temperature or pressure
  • Biological agents such as HIV, hepatitis B, typhoid, chickenpox, rubella etc.
  • Chemical agents such as any substances that may cause an irreversible effect, cause cancer or a heritable genetic damage, carcinogenic agents, drugs or dangerous chemicals which may be absorbed through the skin, mercury and mercury derivatives, carbon monoxide and lead or lead derivatives

This list is not exhaustive and the employer must take any possible risk into account.

Providing notice to your employer

Your employer has a specific duty to prevent a new or expectant mother from being exposed to a risk provided that she has given written notification that she is pregnant or has given birth within the last six months or is breastfeeding. You should therefore consider notifying your employer as soon as possible if you become pregnant.

Your employer is entitled to ask you to provide, within a reasonable time, a written certificate from a registered medical practitioner or a registered midwife showing that you are pregnant.

Note that your employer will not have an obligation to protect you or your baby until they have received your certificate. You should therefore promptly provide this to your employer.

Once you have notified your employer that you are pregnant, they should review the risk assessment for your specific work and identify any changes that are necessary to protect her health and that of her unborn baby.

In addition to undertaking risk assessments, employers are required by law to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest.

Hazards to pregnant workers

Things that might be hazardous to pregnant workers in particular include:

  • Long hours
  • Night-time working
  • Stress
  • Noise
  • Violence from customers
  • Exposure to toxic substances, e.g. lead, pesticides, mercury
  • Radiation
  • Manual handling

If a hazard is identified, your employer must take steps to remove it, e.g. by adjusting working conditions or working hours.

If this cannot be done you should be offered a suitable alternative job, if available.

If a suitable alternative position is not available then so long as the risk is not remote and it remains necessary to protect your (or your child's) health or safety, you may be suspended on full pay for as long as the risk to you and/or your unborn child remains.

Note that you will not be entitled to receive any pay whilst on suspension if you have unreasonably refused a suitable alternative job.

For more information, see our 'Suspension from work on health and safety grounds' section.

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