During the pandemic, pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Employers will need to take account of the latest medical advice as part of their risk assessment to determine what measures need to be put in place.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 already require an employer to risk assess and identify health and safety risks for new and expectant mothers.  Preventive and protective measures must be implemented by the employer and include consideration of risks from Coronavirus.

If the employer cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, they should;

  • alter an employee’s working conditions or hours of work if it is reasonable to do so to avoid risks of contracting Coronavirus,

If these conditions cannot be met an employer should;

  • identify and offer the employee suitable alternative work that is available, and if that is not feasible;
  • Suspend the employee from work. The Employment Rights Act 1996 (which is the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry) requires that this suspension should be on full pay. Employment rights are enforced through the employment tribunals.

Please see the link below for further information:

Risk assessments should be reviewed on a regular basis.  Additional information for new and expectant mothers including specific risks to consider is available at:

Frequently Asked Questions on Pregnancy and COVID-19
 

The following Frequently Asked Questions provide further advice on pregnancy and Coronavirus in the workplace including further reference material.

What does an employer have to do if an employee tells you they are pregnant?

As soon as a staff member informs their employer they are pregnant they should conduct a New and Expectant Mothers risk assessment and a specific Covid-19 risk assessment. Responsibility for risk assessment in the workplace lies with the employer. The results should be shared with the pregnant woman. Where any pregnancy is complicated or where doubt exists about individual health risks, occupational health advice should be obtained and will help inform the risk assessment.

It will be important to consider reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus, including providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions.  Occupational Health advice can be sought if necessary.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (NI) 2000, which afford added protection to new or expectant mothers, also apply to risks of Covid-19 arising from work.  The risk assessments required under these regulations need to be on an individualised basis, that is specific to the individual and their employment setting.

The incidence of Covid-19 infection in the community will also need to be taken into account as this will be an important determinant of risk.  Employers also need to be aware that pregnant women who suffer from a serious underlying health condition will be advised to take additional precautions. In most instances, the advice given previously by government to stay at home is likely to be appropriate while infection rates remain high. The Regulations also refer to circumstances in which suspension from work would be necessary.

What measures within the workplace can increase Covid-19 safety?

An employer undertaking a Covid-19 risk assessment for a pregnant employee should consider the following areas:

  • Consider moving pregnant employees to non-client facing roles.
  • Consider adjustments in start/finish/break times for pregnant staff to avoid busy times if they are required to use public transport.
  • Consider adjusting case load.
  • Consider providing surgical masks/face coverings for all interactions with clients, members of the public or colleagues.
  • Where practicable, limit duration of close interaction with clients/colleagues.
  • Maintain social distancing at all times.

Additional information can be found at the link below:

Does it matter what stage in the pregnancy a worker is at?            

Yes, it does. A woman in the first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), with no underlying serious health conditions, should practise social distancing, follow relevant guidance and provided the risk assessment shows it is safe to do so can work. Added protection may be necessary such as workplace modifications or personal protective equipment (PPE).

A more precautionary approach is recommended for a woman in the third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant), with advice that more attention be given to social distancing. Women should adhere to relevant guidance, avoid contact with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, and significantly reduce unnecessary social contact. Where infection rates in the community are high it is likely that they should be advised to work from home.

What if they have an underlying health condition? 

If a pregnant woman has a serious underlying health condition - such as heart or lung disease - she will have been told to take additional precautions throughout the pregnancy to prevent her coming into contact with the virus. Individual risk assessment as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (NI) 2000 will guide the employer in what reasonable action is necessary to remove the risks by altering working conditions or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; working from home; or by suspension from work on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work).

Can pregnant women return to work?

A decision on whether a pregnant woman can return to work will be guided by the risk assessment. During the pandemic, all pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They were defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and in the early part of the pandemic were classed as ‘shielded’. The individual risk assessment will guide the employer in what reasonable action is necessary to remove risks by altering working conditions or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; working from home; or by suspension from work on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work). This assessment should take account of: the specific work environment; the rate of infection;   the precautions required; and, any extra measures against coronavirus that the government either nationally or locally has recommended to safeguard pregnant women.

What is the advice for pregnant workers before 28 weeks’ gestation?

The advice will be informed by the risk assessment. In the first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), a pregnant woman who has no underlying health conditions can continue at work provided the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so having taken account of the specific environment, government advice and the precautions required. Employers must remove the risks or offer alternative duties should alternative duties not be available suspension on full pay will be necessary. 

What is the advice for pregnant workers after 28 weeks’ gestation?

For women in the third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) extra protection is required. It is strongly recommended that stringent social distancing is applied which is based on the risk assessment specific to the particular workplace. It is better to work from home where possible, avoid situations which increase the risk of contracting coronavirus, and significantly reduce unnecessary social contact.

Healthcare workers - what is the advice for pregnant healthcare workers before 28 weeks’ gestation?

Pregnant women can continue at work provided the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so having taken account of the specific environment, government advice and the precautions required. Employers must remove the risks or offer alternative duties.  In the first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), a woman with no serious underlying health conditions, should avoid, where possible working with patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection.

Some working environments, such as operating theatres, respiratory wards and intensive care/high-dependency units, carry a higher risk for all pregnant women of exposure to the virus and all healthcare workers in these settings are recommended to use appropriate PPE. 

Useful Links

Generic Risk Assessment

HSENI has produced an example risk assessment for Covid-19 in workplaces.  Available at the link below:

NHS

Information from the NHS on how coronavirus could affect you, your baby and your pregnancy.  Available at the link below:

Equality Commission

Coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance for employers: Your duties on pregnancy and maternity. Available at the link below:

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists/ Faculty of Occupational Medicine/Royal College of Midwives UK

Covid-19 virus infection and pregnancy: Statement on Occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women (dated September 2020). Available at the link below: 

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Coronavirus infection and pregnancy. Information for pregnant women and their families. Available at the links below: 

Public Health Agency

Ways to limit the chances for the virus to spread between households and information for the public.  Available at the links below:

Covid-19 advice for pregnant women and parents in Northern Ireland.  Available at the link below:

Royal College of Midwives

Advice for pregnant healthcare workers during Covid-19.  Available at the link below:

Society of Occupational Medicine

Returning to the Workplace after Covid-19 Lockdown. A Toolkit (Dated May 2020). Available at the link below:

Covid-19 return to work guide for health professionals advising patients and employers. (Dated September 2020). 

HSE (GB)

Risk assessment during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. HSE (dated November 2020).

Protect vulnerable workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (dated November 2020).

HSCNI

HSCNI Staff: Covid-19 Risk Assessment for BAME, Vulnerable and Pregnant Staff and Staff returning to work following shielding. (Published July 2020).