2. Risk assessment for new and expectant mothers
Risk assessments help employers manage risks caused through work activity. The risk assessment should be written down if you employ five or more people; noting any significant risks found, how they are controlled and the employees you have told about them.
Your general workplace risk assessment
You must, by law, include risks to female employees of childbearing age in your general workplace risk assessment. This includes risks to new and expectant mothers, who can be exposed to harm through certain working conditions and the use of physical, chemical or biological agents.
You should regularly review your assessment, particularly after significant changes to the workplace or work conditions.
When a worker informs you that they are a new or expectant mother
When an employee has informed you in writing that they are a new or expectant mother, you should immediately check your existing workplace risk assessment for any known risks that could affect them. In doing this you must take account of any medical recommendations provided by their GP or midwife.
If you identify a significant risk
If you identify a significant risk through this process you must take action. If you cannot remove the risk, you should do the following.
Action 1 – Adjust her working conditions or hours to remove the risk.
If that is not possible:
Action 2 – Give her suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions
The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that suitable alternative work should be offered, where appropriate, before any suspension from work. This alternative work should be on the same terms and conditions, including pay.
If that is not possible:
Action 3 – Suspend your employee on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect the health and safety of her and her child
You do not have to conduct a new standalone risk assessment for new and expectant mothers, though you might find this helpful in deciding if additional action needs to be taken.
Regardless of whether your risk assessment review identified risk, employers have a legal duty to revisit, review and revise the general risk assessment if they suspect it is no longer valid or there have been significant changes to anything it relates to (including employees). Having regular discussions with a new or expectant mother is an important way to monitor any changes and address any concerns about health and safety.
Depending on the work involved, this might mean ongoing reviews for a pregnant worker because their dexterity, agility, co-ordination, speed of movement and reach could be impaired as their size increases. Working conditions can also present a risk to mother and child at different pregnancy stages.
Common risks for new and expectant mothers
The most common risks from working conditions for new and expectant mothers include:
- standing or sitting for long periods
- lifting or carrying heavy loads
- long working hours
- working at height
- workstation and posture issues
- work-related stress
There are also risks through exposure to:
- radioactive material
- toxic chemicals like mercury and pesticides
- carbon monoxide
- infectious diseases
You can find more information in the annexes of the Pregnant Workers Directive 92/85/EEC.
Information on potentially harmful industrial processes, including chemical, physical and biological agents, can also be found in European Commission guidance.
If you employ a self-employed contractor who is a new or expectant mother, you will both have duties under health and safety law and need to agree on the risk assessment and any measures required for safe working. You can find more information on using contractors.