Employers often ask us our advice on what is safe for their pregnant workers to continue to do at work. There are of course a variety of factors that are considered hazardous to any worker, but through pregnancy these exposures can be more harmful to the worker as well as affect the developing fetus.
So what does the law say? Well there are a number of regulations that protect the pregnant worker such as the EU Directive-Pregnant Worker (1992), the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and the Equality Act (2010). The employer has a duty of care assess any risks and to control them.
During pregnancy, any risks identified by an employer means they must try to alter hours or duties to try and control them or to seek alternative work tasks for them.
What physical tasks could affect the pregnant worker? There are varying levels of evidence to suggest that physical factors may be hazardous. For example, noise, vibration, radiation, extreme temperatures and handling loads (European Agency for Safety at Work 1992).
But what evidence is there around handling heavy loads at work whilst pregnant? There are some low quality studies which suggest that prolonged standing, heavy lifting and repetitive bending may affect pregnancy outcomes. However, most evidence is conflicting which is largely due to difficulties in defining what ‘heavy lifting’ actually is.
Restricting heavy physical work demands is therefore not seen as mandatory as the risks appear to be very small. Furthermore, physical activity during pregnancy has also been proven to have some health benefits (Kramer and McDonald 2006) so it is often encouraged that women continue with normal activity where possible.
Are pregnant women more prone to injury? During pregnancy, the hormonal changes affect the ligament elasticity which can predispose them to musculoskeletal injury. Special consideration should therefore be given when asking them to complete heavier tasks at work (HSE 2012).
Important final thought… Employers should always assess their pregnant workers individually to look at their physical capacity. If any difficulties arise during the pregnancy then a review is urgently required and medical advice sought.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers plenty of information and risk assessment templates for further support.
Click here to find out more information at the HSE website.