Health and Safety of Pregnant Workers
You're about to wrap-up a normal workday when an employee formally notifies you that she is expecting. At first, naturally you congratulate her and extend the normal formalities. After she leaves, however, you panic. You perform regular risk assessments and feel like you know what you're doing when it comes to employee health and safety but somehow protecting pregnant mothers slipped through your radar. Fortunately, if you did your last risk assessment correctly, you've already prepared for the situation, but if not, here are the basics.
Protecting pregnant workers begins before the pregnancy. During your risk assessments, you should be identifying anything in the workplace that can affect fertility or that poses a particular risk to workers of childbearing age so you can properly notify workers in advance and take appropriate action. You should already have identified any potential risks in your last assessment but if this isn't already part of your risk assessment process, it is worth adding it so you are prepared when you need to be and can merely review your assessment instead of starting from the beginning.
Avoid general hazards. In general long hours, night work, stress, noise, toxic substances, radiation, manual handling, and vibration all post a risk to pregnant employees in particular and should be carefully considered while reevaluating your risk assessment. If you see any of these hazards in your workplace you are required by law to either give the employee alternative work which removes this hazard or give her time-off from work with full-pay.
Avoid specific hazards. Hospitals have different hazards than battery factories and are going to require different workplace precautions. In the same way, different women have different needs during their pregnancies that will need to be taken into consideration. If your employee is suffering from morning sickness, it might be in the best interest of both of you to arrange for her to come into work later or agree not to schedule meetings first thing in the morning. Dialoguing with your employee from the very beginning of her pregnancy is important to make sure that you are creating a workplace health and safety plan that will work well for both of you.
Don't forget a rest area. Pregnant workers should be provided with a rest space, preferably near the restrooms, for breaks. Additionally, you should be expecting these breaks to occur more often as well. The rest area is part of dealing with the requirement to minimise stress on your pregnant worker which is one of the biggest health risks in the workplace (for those who are pregnant as well as for those who are not!).
Dealing with doctors. It is required you give your workers paid leave to receive care leading up to the birth so be prepared to adjust your workweek when necessary. You have the right to proof of the appointments but your employee isn't required to submit it unless asked. Doctors and midwifes may provide notes relating to the needs of specific employees which you will have to adhere to so be prepared to adjust your plan to accommodate those needs. Once again, if you can't follow the doctor's orders, you'll need to give your employees paid leave so you don't violate their health and safety rights.
Although pregnancy can be disruptive, women in the modern era have repeatedly proven that it doesn't have to be. Whether you look at actress Amy Poehler who worked the day she delivered or tech executive Sheryl Sandberg who pumped breast milk during business calls, women today seem to be interested in finding ways to work with their employers to create an environment that works during and after pregnancy. Being prepared for pregnant workers isn't a matter of creating a whole new plan but merely a matter of caring for the health and safety of your pregnant employees the same way you would care for any other employee. If you are aware of the specific hazards of your workplace environment then knowing how to accommodate for the safety of pregnant workers should be a fairly simple procedure. If you can stay flexible and minimise the stress risks in your workplace, you can go a long way toward helping your employee have the best possible pregnancy she can have.