Employers are required to carry out a general risk assessment for their employees to assess all health and safety risks. As part of these employers should consider female employees of childbearing age, including new and expectant mothers, assessing the risks that might arise from any process, working condition or physical, biological or chemical agents.
When an employee has informed an employer in writing that she is pregnant, the employer may want to review their original, general risk assessment to modify it, accordingly. If the risk cannot be removed, the employer must take specific actions such as temporarily adjusting the working conditions and /or hours of work – if this is not possible, offering suitable alternative work (at the same rates of pay) if available. If this is not feasible, suspending the employee from work on paid leave for as long as is necessary, to protect her health and safety and that of the baby.
Does the employee have to inform the employer that she is pregnant?
If an employee is pregnant, has given birth in the last six months or is breastfeeding they are not required to inform their employers of this, but it is important to do so to protect the mother and the baby. Unless the employer receives written confirmation they are not required to take further action than their original assessment required for all employees. An employer can ask for a certificate from a GP or registered midwife indicating an employee is pregnant.
Specific risks to new and expectant mothers
The employer’s workplace risk assessment must specifically consider any risks to the health and safety of a new or expectant mother, or that of her baby.
If any risks are identified, the employer must inform the employee (either directly or through the safety representative) about them and the preventative and protective measures implemented to reduce, remove or control them.
The following categories outline possible risks such as:
- manual handling
- shocks and vibrations
- radiation (ionising and non-ionising)
- infectious diseases
- toxic chemicals
- carbon monoxide
- facilities (including rest rooms)
- mental and physical fatigue, working hours
- stress (including post-natal depression)
- passive smoking
- workstations and posture (including DSE)
- working alone
- working at height
- personal protective equipment
Will the risk assessment be reviewed throughout the pregnancy?
Employers should regularly monitor and review the risk assessment, taking into account the possible risks that may occur at different stages of pregnancy.
This is important because the risk of damage to the unborn child may rise at different stages of a pregnancy from any process, working condition or physical, biological or chemical agents. For example dexterity, agility, co-ordination, speed of movement and reach may be impaired because of the increase in body size as the pregnancy progresses.
As part of this review to allow for adjustments to be made accordingly, it is important that the employee informs the employer about any advice which has been given from their doctor or midwife (for example pregnancy-related medical conditions such as high blood pressure, a history of miscarriages etc.). An employee can request to see the outcome of the risk assessment and the employer must show it to them.
Remember regular discussions between new and expectant mothers and employers are an important way to address any issues or concerns about health and safety risk.
What can an employee do if an employer fails in their duty?
If an employer’s work activity (or anyone else’s) puts an employee’s safety at risk, an employee should raise the matter with their employer or workplace safety representative or union representative. A complaint can also be forwarded to HSENI.
An employee should provide an employer with written confirmation they are breastfeeding. It is advisable to do this before a return to work, so an employer can ensure a return to a healthy, safe and suitable environment.
This will allow the employer to revisit the risk assessment process taking account of any further risks which may arise from the work activity which may be specifically associated with breast feeding once an employee has returned to work. These will depend on working conditions and could include:
- working with organic mercury
- working with radioactive materials
- exposure to lead
If there is any doubt guidance should be sought from an occupational health specialist.
What facilities does an employer need to provide for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers?
An employer should provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest. Where necessary this should include somewhere to lie down.
It is not suitable for new mothers to use toilets for expressing milk. The employer may provide a private, healthy and safe environment for employees to express and store milk, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
- New and expectant mothers - questions and answers - HSE (GB)
- Workplace health, safety and welfare. Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 - ACOP L24 - HSE (GB)
- Breastfeeding and returning to work - Public Health Agency website
- Promoting breastfeeding for mothers returning to work - Public Health Agency website
- Sample policy on supporting breastfeeding employees - Public Health Agency website
The regulations cover female employees who are, or in the future could be a new or expectant mother. In other words, women of childbearing age who are in the future could be pregnant, have given birth within the previous six months, or are breastfeeding.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 - www.legislation.gov.uk
- Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 - www.legislation.gov.uk
Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.