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New and Expectant Mothers at Work

All employers should carry out workplace risk assessments to identify and control hazards and who might be harmed. This risk assessment should, if you employ them, include any risks to female employees of childbearing age, and in particular, risks from the workplace that may affect her, her unborn child, or her child while she is breastfeeding.



If you are notified that an employee is pregnant, breastfeeding or has given birth within the last six months, you should check your workplace risk assessment to see if any new risks have arisen. If risks are identified you must take appropriate, sensible action to reduce, remove or control them.


While it is a legal obligation for employers to regularly review general workplace risks, there is actually no legal requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for new and expectant mothers. However, if you choose to do so, the following are some examples of what you should include:


Movement and posture:

  • Does the job include awkward twisting and stretching?

  • Does the woman have to stand for more than 2-3 hours without a break?

  • Does the woman have to sit for more than 2-3 hours without a break?

  • Are there space restrictions and are these going to cause problems during pregnancy (for example working behind a desk)?

Manual Handling:

  • Does the job involve twisting, stooping, stretching to lift objects?

  • Does the job involve lifting, pushing or pulling of heavy loads?

  • Does the job involve rapid repetitive lifting (even light loads)?

  • Does the job involve lifting objects that are difficult to grasp or awkward to hold?

PPE and Uniforms:

  • Does the woman wear aprons, overalls, hi-vis etc and are they provided in suitable sizes?

  • Are uniforms available in maternity sizes?

  • Are the materials used comfortable for all pregnant women to wear?

Hazardous substances and infectious diseases:

  • Are there any risks of infection at the workplace (e.g. spilled body fluids, syringes)? Are hygiene precautions adequate?

  • Does the woman work with raw meat? Are hygiene precautions adequate?

  • Is the employee under 28 weeks' gestation? (women less than 28 weeks pregnant and with no underlying health problems may be at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19 - see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-pregnant-employees/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-pregnant-employees)

  • Does the woman have significant heart disease (either congenital or acquired)? If so, they are classed as in a clinically extremely vulnerable group by the government under COVID-19 laws.

  • Are any chemicals used at work known to be of risk to women of childbearing age? Are pregnant workers kept away from work that could increase exposure?

Working hours:

  • Is the woman expected to work long hours and overtime?

  • Does she have some flexibility or choice over her working hours?

  • Does the work involve early starts or late finishes?

  • Does the work involve night work between 11pm and 7am?

Work-related stress:

  • Are there any tasks which are known to be particularly stressful, e.g. dealing with irate customers?

  • Are colleagues and supervisors supportive of the pregnant worker?

  • Is the woman aware of what to do if she feels bullied or victimised?

  • Has the woman any concerns about her own pregnancy?


Temperature extremes:

  • Does the work involve exposure to temperatures below 16C or above 27C?

  • If protective clothing is provided to protect against the cold, is it suitable for the pregnant worker?

  • Is the worker exposed to cold draughts even when the average temperature is acceptable?

  • Are there arrangements for sufficient breaks and access to hot or cold drinks?


Work at height:

  • Does the work involve a lot of climbing up and down steps or ladders?

  • Does the work involve carrying items up and down stairs or ladders?

  • If a mobile platform is used to access higher levels, is there enough room for a pregnant worker to use it safely?


Violence:

  • Is the job one which is perceived to have a high risk of violence?

  • Is there always support at hand to help any staff who might be threatened or abused by customers?

  • Are managers and supervisors aware of the extra risks posed by violence to pregnant workers?


Welfare:

  • Is there somewhere quiet for pregnant women to rest and lie down?

  • Are new and expectant mothers provided easy access to toilets and allowed sufficient breaks where needed?

  • Is there a clean, private area to express breast milk?

  • Is there somewhere safe for them to store expressed milk (not a shared fridge)?


Healthcare workers:

  • Is the employee a healthcare worker? Will the employee come into contact with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients during their duties?


Emergencies:

  • If the workplace is multiple storeys, are there different evacuation procedures for the pregnant employee?

  • Does the woman need a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP)?

  • Has she been allocated a buddy for evacuation?



For further steps that an employer can take, see the HSE flowchart at https://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/docs/pregnant-workers-flow-chart.pdf



Sources: HSE, RoSPA.


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