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5. Workplace safety law for new and expectant mothers

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) implement the health and safety requirements of the Pregnant Workers Directive (92/85/EEC) into UK law.

The specific health and safety requirements relating to new and expectant mothers at work are mainly contained in Regulations 16 to 18 of the MHSW. Regulation 3 places a legal duty on employers to assess the health and safety risks that all their employees are exposed to at work. If risks are identified, then the employer is required to put in place appropriate health and safety measures to control them.

In addition, Regulation 16 of the MHSW requires the risk assessment to include any risks to females of childbearing age who could become pregnant, and any risks to new and expectant mothers. These risks can be from any process, working condition or work involving physical, biological or chemical agents.

Employers have certain obligations once they have received notification in writing from an employee that she is a new or expectant mother, under Regulation 18 of the MHSW. When an employee provides written notification that she is pregnant, has given birth within the past six months or is breastfeeding, the employer should immediately take into account any risks identified in their workplace risk assessment.

If there are any identified significant risks to the health and safety of a new or expectant mother (including risks to her child), and these cannot be avoided by taking the preventive and protective measures required under relevant health and safety legislation, then employers must take action to remove, reduce or control the risks.

Regulation 17 of the MHSW states that, where a new or expectant mother works nights, but provides a medical certificate from her GP or midwife saying night shifts will affect her health, her employer must suspend her from work on full pay for as long as necessary. However, the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that, where appropriate, suitable alternative work should be offered on the same terms and conditions before any suspension from work is considered.

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (the Workplace Regulations) also protect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers at work.

They require employers to provide suitable rest facilities for workers who are pregnant or breastfeeding, which should be suitably located (eg near toilets) and, where necessary, include appropriate facilities for new or expectant mothers to lie down.

Equality Act 2010

Breaches of the MHSW may be considered to be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (the Equality Act), depending on the circumstances. The Equality Act requires no length of service qualification and gives protective rights to a broad range of employees, including contract, agency and apprentice workers. A breach of the Equality Act could lead to civil liability.