The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have recently published a report on pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace. Over 40% of women reported a work-based risk to their health or welfare and one in twenty-five mothers stated that they had left their jobs because risks to their health or to the health of their child were not managed.
There are specific legal requirements across the UK and Ireland for managing the risks to pregnant, breastfeeding women and to their children before and after birth. In Ireland the law requires a risk assessment of hazards specific to pregnant or breastfeeding employees as part of the Safety Statement In the UK, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employees to consider the risks to women of child-bearing age and to their babies, whether or not they currently think anyone is pregnant. In both jurisdictions, once an employee notifies her employer of her pregnancy (or, on return to work, notifies the employer that she is breast feeding) the risks must be reviewed in relation to her job and measures put in place to protect her and her child.
The UK Management regs use the somewhat outdated term “women of child-bearing age.” This has no legal and medical definition. Therefore unless women are excluded from your workplace, all risk assessments should consider the risks to pregnant women. For example, if a working environment exposes women to chemical, radiological or biological hazards which are within permitted limits for most workers, but which could be damaging to an unborn child, all women in that working environment should be advised of the hazards and precautions required as soon as they start working in that environment – this could influence when an employee tells her employer she is pregnant.
If a pregnant woman or her child were to suffer as a result of an employer’s failure to conduct a suitable risk assessment, a prosecution under health and safety legislation would be possible. In many cases however, women leave the workplace in order to protect their child, and cases can end up in Employment Tribunals. For example, care worker Mrs Hardman won her case against the nursing home she worked for when she left because they refused to assess the risk of patient handling to her during her pregnancy.
To produce suitable and sufficient risk assessments for pregnant and nursing employees efficiently, you can develop generic risk assessments which include a range of possibly relevant Hazards. As well as obvious hazards like lead, chemicals, radiation and heavy lifting, don’t forget to consider long hours standing, sitting or driving. The generic risk assessment can then be cloned and reviewed with the particular employee’s work in mind – how much does she drive for work? Is she involved with any processes using hazardous substances?
As with other risk assessments, actions can be assigned to different people – some might be assigned to a pregnant woman’s line manager, others to HR, and some might be for her to follow-up on herself. A senior sales person could be asked to plan her own visits to avoid excessive driving.
The BIS/ EHRC study reported a greater incidence of risks to the health or welfare of agency staff and casual workers than permanent staff, so make sure that where you are using agency or contract staff you consider how to apply your existing risk assessments to them.
For more information as to how Effective Software and our Safety Risk Assessment Software can help you easily create, share and manage your Risk Assessments or streamline any of your organisations health and safety processes why not Contact one of our super friendly product specialists.