Many women continue to work while they are pregnant and might return to work while they are still breast feeding. Pregnancy is a natural part of everyday life, so it is important to make sure that new and expectant mothers are safe within the workplace.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Regulations established in 1999, employers are responsible for taking into account the health and safety risks to New and Expectant Mothers in the workplace.

This refers to any women who is pregnant, is breastfeeding or has given birth within the previous six months.

It is important to carry out a risk assessment that is specific to new or expectant mothers in the workplace, in order to identify which risks might be present and whether these risks are low, medium or high. This risk assessment will allow the employer to determine which steps should be taken to improve the safety of the work environment. Working conditions that are normally considered acceptable might no longer be so during pregnancy or while breast feeding.

What are some of the health and safety considerations specific to new and expectant mothers in the workplace?

Manual Load Handling

Because of postural difficulties and a body that is more susceptible to injury, expectant mothers are at risk when they are performing manual handling tasks. Pregnant women should avoid all manual handling, especially heavy lifting. If heavy or repetitive lifting is the main part of the job, the pregnant employee should be re-deployed temporarily during the pregnancy and for a period of time after they have given birth.

Vibration and Movement

Pregnant women should not be working in environments which involve whole body vibration, such as riding in an off-road vehicle. This could be hazardous because the abdomen is exposed to jolts or shocks. However, this type of vibration poses no danger to women who are breastfeeding.

Ionising Radiation

Any employees who work with ionising radiation in their jobs should inform their employer as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed, as arrangements must be made to eliminate their exposure to radiation. However, when it comes to non-ionising radiation such as optical radiation, infra-red, ultra-violet, radio frequency and microwaves, pregnant women are at no greater risk from exposure than other workers.

Heat Extremes

Pregnant women are more sensitive to heat and will be more likely to faint or suffer stress related to overheating. This will not be a problem in the average office, but might be an issue in workplaces that involve extremes of temperature such as catering. If a pregnant woman is working in a very hot environment, she should be allowed to have refreshment and rest breaks frequently.

Movement and Postures

Due to fatigue, back pain and varicose veins, many pregnant women find it difficult to stand for long periods of time. This could be a problem in a position that requires employees to be on their feet throughout their shift. Accommodations should be made, such as frequent rest breaks or adapting the position so that the pregnant employee can use a chair.

Breastfeeding Mothers

It is necessary to allow breastfeeding mothers a break throughout the day to express milk into a breast pump and to provide them with a private area in which to do this. This will usually be once or twice per day. Also, a fridge must be on the premises in which to store the milk until the end of the workday.

These are just a few of the important health and safety considerations that need to be made in the case of expectant mothers in the workplace.

Legislation Affecting New and Expectant Mothers at Work

  • Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 (MHSW)
  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
  • Employment Rights Act 1996 as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975

Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 (MHSW)

MHSW provides the legal requirements on employers to protect their employees who are or in the future could be new or expectant mothers.