Health and safety at work

Your employer has a responsibility to ensure that work does not harm you or your baby.

Your employer has a responsibility to ensure that work does not harm you or your baby. To do this, they must carry out a risk assessment to ensure that your particular job, working practices and workplaces are safe.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is a way of formally assessing the workplace to reassure your workplace and working conditions are as safe and comfortable as possible. Regular assessments will ensure that you are safe at work during your pregnancy. 

A risk assessment ensures your employer is acting within the law and reinforces their concern for your health and wellbeing.

What should a risk assessment include?

A risk assessment should look at all aspects of your work and workplace to see if there are any hazards that present an unacceptable risk to your health and safety and that of your baby. If you work in more than one place, the risk assessment should cover each workplace.

The risk assessment doesn’t need to be complicated. In some occupations, there will be few hazards and assessing the risks may only require common sense. It’s important they are methodical about looking at all aspects your work and workplace and not to take anything for granted.

Will the risk assessment be specific to each me?

Yes. You will have your own risk assessment, as there may be medical or working issues that are unique to you.

Step-by-step guide to risk assessments

It’s important they carry out a risk assessment as soon as possible after you inform your employer in writing about your pregnancy.

Below are the steps they should take to ensure they have identified and assessed all potential risks.

Step 1: Use their existing risk assessment for women of childbearing age as a basis for the individual assessment.

Step 2: Identify any hazards. Hazards are often broken down into the following groups: biological, chemical, ergonomic, physical, psychosocial (see table below for more information ). Your employer will write down any findings and take into account the midwife or GP’s advice about you, which may be on a ‘fit note’.

Step 3: Assess the potential of each hazard to cause harm. Is the risk high or low? If there are known health and safety issues in your workplace, such as chemicals for instance, these should be included in the risk assessment.  They will continue to follow the health and safety guidelines already in place, and take into account adjustments for you.

Step 4:  If the risk remains significant and they are unable to remove, reduce or control it, they should offer you a suitable alternative employment where possible.  If your employer does this, they will continue to assess and review your new role. If you refuse a reasonable offer of alternative employment, you are effectively resigning.

Step 5: If there is no suitable alternative work, your employee will suspend you on full pay for as long as necessary to protect your health and safety, and that of your baby. If the risk remains, this may continue for six months after childbirth, or longer if you are breastfeeding.

Step 6:  Ensure that you continue to benefit from the same terms and conditions during any temporary adjustments to your job or in the new role to which you have been temporarily assigned.

Step 7:  Review the risk assessment each trimester, even if no hazards were identified, your employer will take into account your physical changes as your pregnancy progresses. If you are unclear about anything or feel that the risk assessment hasn’t identified all the risks, arrange a time to sit down and discuss it in more detail.

Examples of potential hazards to consider

As a guide, hazards can be grouped into biological, chemical, ergonomic, physical and psychosocial. Here are some examples of each type, who they might affect and ways the risk could be reduced or removed.

If any of the hazards identified in the table below are present in your workplace, you should refer to the relevant regulations or guidance for information on what your employer should do to remove them.

These include bacteria and viruses that cause diseases, such as rubella.

Who could they affect?

  • Health workers
  • Teachers

Risks they could present

  • Risk of miscarriage and danger to the unborn baby

Examples of risk reduction removal

  • Change duties while the risk is present
  • Wear protective clothing

These include cleaning fluids, pesticides, asbestos, lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, cytotoxic drugs.

Who could they affect?

  • Cleaners
  • Agricultural workers
  • Factory workers
  • Nurses and pharmacists

Risks they could present

  • Risk of miscarriage and danger to the unborn baby

Examples of risk reduction removal

  • Wear protective clothing
  • Follow hygiene practices
  • Change duties if necessary to avoid risks

These include lifting and handling, repetitive activities, operating machinery, working in a confined space and prolonged standing or sitting.

Who could they affect?

  • Production line workers
  • Retail workers
  • Office workers

Risks they could present

  • Ligament strain
  • Prolonged standing may lead to dizziness and increased risk of premature birth
  • Prolonged sitting may lead to risk of deep-vein thrombosis

Examples of risk reduction removal

  • Vary duties
  • Change workstation for increased comfort
  • Provide stools to sit on
  • Introduce lifting equipment

These include noise, dust, vibrations, radiation, extreme temperatures, violence and slips or trips.

Who could they affect?

  • Labourers and manual workers
  • Machinists
  • Radiographers
  • Employees who have direct contact with customers
  • Factory workers

Risks they could present

  • Persistent noise levels can lead to stress and tiredness
  • Strong vibrations, exposure to dust, radiation, extreme temperatures and violence all present a risk to the baby

Examples of risk reduction removal

  • Move to a quieter area
  • Change duties to avoid risk
  • Avoid handling cash to reduce the risk of violence
  • Make sure the workplace is clear of obstacles and spillages on the ground

These include working alone, long hours, stress at work, threat of abuse or violence and night working.

Who could they affect?

  • Home workers
  • People who work in public service
  • Shift workers or managers

Risks they could present

  • Stress, which can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth, and affect a woman’s ability to breastfeed

Examples of risk reduction removal

  • Provide additional training
  • Improve communication for lone workers
  • Switch to day work
  • Delegate to other staff to avoid unnecessary stress
  • Cut back hours

Five risk-assessment factors

  1. An employer should carry out a risk assessment for all employees, including women of childbearing age, which will also cover risks to new and expectant mothers.
  2. If risks have been identified, necessary action should have already been taken to remove, reduce or control them.
  3. Employers should inform employees of any remaining risks that might impact on fertility or the early weeks of pregnancy and should stress the importance of employees telling them about a pregnancy as early as possible.
  4. An employer must conduct a specific risk assessment for each pregnant woman who works on the premises after being informed in writing about the pregnancy. This includes permanent, temporary, and agency workers. 
  5. Reviews should be conducted regularly, at least once each trimester and when the employee returns to work if this is within six months of the birth or if she is still breastfeeding.