What is a risk assessment?
Workers (and anyone else who could potentially be affected by their work) have a right to be protected from harm. A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of the harm which could be caused through any work activity. This helps employers check whether appropriate control measures are in place, or if they need to do more to prevent harm. If any significant risks are identified, then the risk assessment must include an assessment of such risk.
Any significant findings from the assessment should be written down if you employ five or more people and this can then be used to help manage workplace risks and communicate them to employees.
How do I conduct a risk assessment for pregnant workers?
Your workplace risk assessment should already consider any risks to female employees of childbearing age and, in particular, risks to new and expectant mothers (for example, from working conditions, or the use of physical, chemical or biological agents). Any risks identified must be included and managed as part of the general workplace risk assessment.
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 during the pregnancy, in the first six months after birth or while the employee is still breastfeeding, 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, this may help you decide if any additional action needs to be taken.
The steps employers are required to take are shown in the flow chart.
For further information on how to assess the risks in your workplace, see: Risk management.
I’m not sure how to do a risk assessment. Does HSE have a template I can use?
Am I legally required to do a specific risk assessment, once formally notified that an employee is pregnant?
No. Employers must carry out a general risk assessment for their employees to assess all health and safety risks they are exposed to while at work. As part of that process, you should consider female employees of childbearing age, including new and expectant mothers, assessing the risks that may arise from any process, working condition or physical, biological or chemical agents.
While it is a legal obligation for employers to regularly review general workplace risks, there is no legal requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for an employee, once notified in writing that she is a new or expectant mother. However, you may choose to do so, to help you decide if any additional action needs to be taken.
A significant risk has been identified. What action needs to be taken?
If a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother, which goes beyond the normal level of risk found outside the workplace, you must take the following actions:
- Action 1: Temporarily adjust her working conditions and / or working hours; or if that is not possible
- Action 2: Offer her suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay) if available; or if that is not possible
- Action 3: Suspend her from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect her health and safety, and that of her child.
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.
Do I have to be pregnant before my employer takes action to protect my health and safety?
No. Your employer is required to conduct a general risk assessment for all workers, which should include any specific risks to females of childbearing age and new or expectant mothers.
What involvement do I have in my employer’s risk assessment process?
If any risks are identified, your employer must inform you (either directly or through your safety representative) about them and the preventative and protective measures implemented to reduce, remove or control them.
Does the risk assessment get repeated as my pregnancy progresses?
Your employer has a legal duty to check and, if necessary, update the general risk assessment for any employee if they suspect it is no longer valid, or there have been significant changes to anything it relates to. As part of that process, your employer should regularly monitor and review the assessment in your workplace, taking into account possible risks that may occur at different stages of your pregnancy.
This is important because the risk of damage to the unborn child may rise at different stages of a pregnancy from any process, working condition or physical, biological or chemical agents. For example, your dexterity, agility, co-ordination, speed of movement and reach may be impaired because of your increased size as the pregnancy progresses.
I contract a self-employed pregnant worker. Who should complete the risk assessment?
If you employ a contractor, you both have duties under health and safety law to assess health and safety risks at work. You will need to agree with her on the risk assessment for the job and the measures put in place for safe working. For further information, see: Using contractors: A brief guide.
Can I still breastfeed when I return to work?
Yes. There are no legal restrictions on breastfeeding at work or any time limit for doing so. This is something for you to decide but it should not prevent you from returning to work.
You should provide your employer with written notification that you are breastfeeding. It is advisable to do this before you return to work, so your employer can ensure you return to a healthy, safe and suitable environment.
It is not suitable for you to use toilets for expressing milk. Your employer may provide a private, healthy and safe environment for you to express and store milk, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
However, your employer is legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down.
My employee will still be breastfeeding when she returns to work. Are there any specific workplace risks associated with breastfeeding?
There may be risks, other than those associated with pregnancy, to consider if an employee is still breastfeeding on their return to work. These will depend on her working conditions but could include:
- working with organic mercury
- working with radioactive material
- exposure to lead
This list is not exhaustive (see EC guidance for further information). You will need to consider any other risks that could cause harm to the mother or child’s health and safety, for as long as she wishes to continue to breastfeed.
If you have any doubts, you may wish to seek professional advice from an occupational health specialist.
What facilities do I need to provide for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers?
You are legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding employees to rest. Where necessary, this should include somewhere for them to lie down.
It is not suitable for new mothers to use toilets for expressing milk. You may provide a private, healthy and safe environment for employees to express and store milk, although there is no legal requirement for you to do so.
Notification of being a new or expectant mother
Do I have to tell my employer if I am pregnant or a new mother?
While you do not have to inform your employer that you are pregnant, have given birth in the last six months or are breastfeeding, it is important (for you and your child’s health and safety) to notify them in writing as early as possible. Until your employer receives written notification from you, they are not required to take any further action, such as altering working conditions or hours of work.
Your employer can also ask you to provide a certificate from your GP or registered midwife showing that you are pregnant.
Can I request written confirmation of an employee’s pregnancy?
Yes. You may request confirmation of her pregnancy by means of a certificate from a registered medical practitioner or a registered midwife. If your employee fails to produce this certificate within a reasonable period of time, you are not bound to maintain any changes to working hours or conditions, or to maintain paid leave. However, you must allow a reasonable period of time for all necessary medical examinations and tests to be completed.
Specific risks to new and expectant mothers
What specific risks should I be looking for?
Your workplace risk assessment must specifically consider any risks to the health and safety of a new or expectant mother, or that of her baby.
Possible risks include:
- Movements and postures
- Manual handling
- Shocks and vibrations
- Radiation (ionising and non-ionising)
- Compressed air and diving
- Underground mining work
- Toxic chemicals
- Antimitotic (cytotoxic) drugs
- Carbon monoxide
- Facilities (including rest rooms)
- Mental and physical fatigue, working hours
- Stress (including post-natal depression)
- Passive smoking
- Working with visual display units (VDUs)
- Working alone
- Working at height
- Personal protective equipment
A non-exhaustive list can be found in the annexes of the Pregnant Workers Directive 92/85/EEC, or see also the European Commission’s guidelines.
I have pregnancy-related medical conditions (eg high blood pressure, history of miscarriages etc)? How does this affect the risk assessment my employer has to carry out?
Your employer must take into account any medical advice from your GP or midwife about your health, and adjust your working conditions accordingly.
Can a new or expectant mother still work nights?
A new or expectant mother may work nights, provided this presents no risk to her health and safety. However, if a specific work risk has been identified – or her GP / midwife has provided a medical certificate stating she must not work nights – her employer must offer suitable alternative day work, on the same terms and conditions. If that is not possible, the employer must suspend her from work on paid leave for as long as is necessary to protect her health and safety and / or that of her child.