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A Government survey found that one in 25 mothers left their jobs because of risks not being tackled. This amounts to up to 21,000 mothers per year, which is an extremely large figure. Risks at work for pregnant women are an extremely important issue to mitigate, as they put both the mother and the unborn baby in danger.
Women have been found to feel apprehensive about work when they find out that they are pregnant. This is because changes must be made in almost all circumstances to ensure that both the mother and the unborn baby are kept safe. Flexible working is one of the most common requests that expectant mothers make. Over two thirds of mothers submit flexible working requests to their managers as they progress through pregnancy, and the majority of these are usually approved. However, this joint survey with the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that around half of mothers who have their flexible working requests approved said that they felt it resulted in negative consequences.
There should be no stigma around pregnant mothers who require changes at work to help them work safely. All pregnant mothers should have a risk assessment at work to identify any risks in their job that could pose a risk to them and their unborn babies. This article will explore risk assessment for pregnant staff at work, and how one should be carried out effectively.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is the process of identifying any hazards that could potentially cause harm to yourself or others. There are risks posed to us in everyday life constantly, but it is our judgement and reaction to these risks that protects us. Risks are inevitable in daily life. It would be very difficult to live a life with zero risks present. To do so would be an extremely mundane life.
When we talk about risks, there is a large spectrum of how severe the risk is and the dangers that it poses to us.
Some examples of daily risks include:
- Crossing the road.
- Cooking dinner over a hot stove.
- Using tools when completing DIY projects.
- Walking down the stairs.
- Driving a vehicle.
- Cycling on the road.
As you can see from the list above, these tasks are things that many of us do multiple times a day. However, just because it poses a risk does not mean that we do not embark on the task. We employ strategies when completing the task to keep ourselves and others safe.
One example of this is:
Looking to your blind spot before pulling off when driving a car, and pulling off slowly when we have checked that no pedestrians, motorists or cyclists are present.
By checking the blind spot before driving off, you are managing the risk whilst being able to complete the task that you set out to do (which is pulling off to drive your car). The actions above are the result of you completing your own risk assessment and taking action to mitigate the risk of harming yourself or somebody else whilst driving your car.
In the workplace it is crucial to ensure that health and safety is adhered to by completing risk assessments of all areas of your business. Once the risk assessment is completed, steps should be taken to mitigate each risk. This is called managing risk (which will be explained in more detail throughout this article). Once risk assessments are completed, they should be reviewed periodically to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and continue to keep people safe.
What is a risk assessment for pregnant staff?
A risk assessment for pregnant staff is the same as a regular risk assessment, but the risks included in the assessment are specific to the pregnant person. This makes the risk assessment person centred. Pregnant staff should always be included in the creation of their own risk assessment to ensure that their own views are considered regarding what they, individually, consider as a risk.
Not all pregnant staff will have the same risk assessment. What is considered a risk to one pregnant staff member may not be included as a risk to another pregnant staff member.
This is dependent on many factors such as:
- The state of health of the pregnant staff member.
- The stage of pregnancy of the pregnant staff member.
- The circumstances of their lifestyle.
- Their job role.
- Their working hours.
- The setting where they carry out their working duties.
- The equipment used in their working role.
- The people that they are exposed to in their working role.
Why is a risk assessment for pregnant staff important?
Being pregnant should not stop a woman from working. However, it can reduce their level of ability depending on how demanding the tasks of their job are. There are also many risks that are posed in the workplace that could potentially affect the health and wellbeing of a pregnant member of staff and their unborn child.
It is important that employers do not put their pregnant members of staff at risk. This is where a risk assessment comes into place; to enable pregnant staff members to work for as long as they want to, and as long as it is safe for them to do so, as they progress through their pregnancy. A Government survey found that the majority of employers reported that it was in their best interests to support pregnant women and those who were on maternity leave. They found that this increased staff retention and created a better workplace culture that made their workplace a desirable place to be.
Is a risk assessment for pregnant staff required by law?
Any staff member who is pregnant has four main legal rights in the UK, which are:
1. Paid time off for antenatal care – this includes medical appointments for scans and check-ups, as well as any parenting classes or other recommended care suggested by a midwife.
2. Maternity leave – it should be the choice of the pregnant employee when they decide to begin their maternity leave.
3. Maternity pay or maternity allowance – the Government outlines an employer guide on the entitlements to maternity pay for pregnant staff.
4. Protection against unfair discrimination or dismissal – pregnancy and maternity are protected in the Equality Act 2010 (a piece of legislation that all workplaces – large or small – must abide by).
When pregnant women inform you that they are pregnant, you are required by law to complete a risk assessment for them. The Health and Safety Executive states that by law, all employers must assess the risks to women of childbearing age as part of general workplace assessment. Employers must also carry out an individual risk assessment that covers your worker’s specific needs when they have informed you in writing that they are pregnant, are breastfeeding or have given birth in the past six months.
Your employer should discuss openly any risks that they identify with you, as well as talk to you about your pregnancy and what you need to continue to do your job. By law, employers must change your working conditions or offer you different work if there are risks present that cannot be reduced. If no other work is available to you in the business, your employer cannot dismiss you, as this would be classed as unfair dismissal. Pregnant women have a right to stay at home if there are risks at work that have not been removed and should continue to be paid in full until the risk has been mitigated. Employers are not allowed to reduce your pay or leave you out of promotion opportunities because of this.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also protects new and expectant mothers who continue to work. There is also the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which protects both males and females. Under this Act, if an employer fails to protect the health and safety of their pregnant workforce, it is classed as sex discrimination and is against the law.
How often should a risk assessment be carried out for pregnant staff?
Risk assessments for pregnant women should be regularly reviewed as the employee’s pregnancy progresses. It should also be reviewed if there are any significant changes to the activity in the workplace or job duties.
As a minimum, a risk assessment should be completed at the beginning of the following stages of pregnancy:
i. First trimester – this begins at the start of pregnancy and up until week 12. At this stage, physical signs of pregnancy are not normally apparent, but this does not mean that risks should not be considered. Women may experience early pregnancy symptoms during this stage as pregnancy hormones begin to alter the body.
ii. Second trimester – this begins from week 13 up until week 27. During this trimester women may begin to show a baby bump as the unborn baby continues to grow. However, as the pregnancy progresses during this stage, the risks of infections to pregnant women and the unborn baby increase. There are also greater risks from certain foods that are increasingly dangerous at this stage.
iii. Third trimester – this begins from week 28 to the end of pregnancy. During this stage women can tend to feel more uncomfortable and tired. More hormones will affect the body and mobility may become more difficult due to carrying extra weight. This is the stage where women are most likely to develop conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
As you can see from the descriptions above, there are lots of changes that happen to the body as the pregnancy progresses; and with each change comes increasing risk which is why these are the minimum stages that risk assessments should be carried out.
What should be covered in a risk assessment for pregnant staff?
It depends on the type of job when deciding what should be covered in a risk assessment for pregnant staff. There are many different risks that may need to be considered such as physical risks, biological risks, working conditions, equipment for work, chemicals used at work, and work processes.
As well as asking the pregnant member of staff, and considering the risks from an employer perspective, some common risks at work include:
- Lifting heavy loads.
- Noise pollution.
- Sitting in an office chair.
- Working hours.
- Exposure to infection.
- Cigarette smoke.
- Exposure to chemicals or flammable items.
- Postural risks from being in the same position for a long period of time.
- Work-related stress.
- Physically demanding work.
When each risk is identified, it should be scored on the likelihood of the risk causing harm, and the level of harm it could cause. By doing this, you can create proportionate mitigation to each risk for the pregnant member of staff to follow. Many workplaces have accident reporting procedures in place for all staff to record accidents as they occur. This procedure could be adapted for your pregnant member of staff so that any accident is escalated faster to account for the higher level of risk to the employee.
How often should a risk assessment be updated?
A risk assessment should be updated according to any changes to the pregnant member of staff, and any change to the workplace, or job. As well as making updates, the existing risks should be reviewed as time progresses.
During the later stages of pregnancy, medical professionals can also contribute to the risk assessment to ensure that everything that needs to be covered is included. The pregnant member of staff can ask their medical team about how their workplace can accommodate them, as well as the Human Resources department seeking their own advice to protect their pregnant employee.
Many women work during their pregnancy and when they are breastfeeding once they have had their baby. Being pregnant and having a baby should not prevent you from going to work, and this is protected in many pieces of UK legislation. If you are concerned about working whilst being pregnant, you should discuss your concerns with your manager or Human Resources department in the first instance so they understand and can accommodate your concerns in your risk assessment.
The risk assessment detailed in this article is an entitlement to every member of staff who is pregnant and who has recently given birth. Furthermore, there are many organisations that you can contact to get advice from to promote and protect your safety at work whilst being pregnant so that your career does not halt due to pregnancy.