Expectant Mothers – Risk Assessment

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Normally, when an employee advises the employer that they are pregnant, the employer will say “congratulations” to the expectant mother.

However, depending on their job role, you may have to consider whether there are any aspects of the employee’s job which could be putting the expectant mother and unborn child at risk. This isn’t scare-mongering and it could be argued that the risk is far greater where the employee is doing a job that may be manual/physical and could involve;

  • Physical agility and lifting
  • Exposure to chemicals, substances, pesticides
  • Dealing with hot pans, bending over to get trays out of a hot oven in a catering setting
  • Operating machinery including fork lift trucks, heavy earth moving machinery, tractors and the risks associated with getting on and off
  • Working at height
  • Warehouse work with ladders.

The list goes on and in a situation like this, HR overlaps with Health and Safety because the employer owes the employee a duty of care and invariably, it is appropriate for an employer to carry out a risk assessment – and commonly this is referred to as an expectant mother risk assessment.

These can take various forms and there is no right or wrong way of doing this but ideally, the employer and employee will work together in completing and documenting the risk assessment, identifying risk and dangers and considering ways and means where the risk can be eliminated and/or mitigated – often referred to as adjustments.

Without wanting to generalise and stereo- type, there are some job roles which are primarily office based and the risks are a lot less than someone working in a physical or manual job but there are still risks in the office associated with lifting and carrying, tripping over trailing cables, reaching, stretching, working with VDUs, climbing stairs etc. Similarly, in retail or hospitality or manufacturing the employee may spend quite long periods of time standing.

There is also the risk associated with mental health – work related stress which might be due to an employee having an unreasonable workload, being required to work long and unsocial hours – or in some cases, an employee may have a job role which involves driving and doing high mileage which can be stressful and tiring.

So, it is good practice to ensure that some form of risk assessment is carried out. Ideally, the employer and employee will do the risk assessment jointly and discuss sensible and reasonable issues and possible adjustments.

In a recent situation, the pregnant employee drove heavy machinery and plant in an environment with uneven terrain, some lone working and with the vehicle jolting and vibrating, it was concluded that the employee would have to be moved to a different role, which in this case was a transport office where the role was primarily administrative.

It is incumbent on the employer to make reasonable adjustments to minimise risk and ensure that there is no risk to the expectant mother and unborn child.

Expectant mother risk assessments vary depending on the role and can be quite simple and straight forward but for some jobs, they will be more detailed. This list is not exhaustive but it may also be necessary to consider

  • The effect of passive smoking
  • Poor and prolonged work postures
  • Extremes of temperature
  • Morning sickness having an impact where the employee works shifts
  • Frequency and proximity for visits to the toilet
  • Also, consider lone working and work from home risks.

If a risk assessment is carried out at an early stage of the pregnancy, it is advisable to ensure the risk assessment is reviewed because there could be changes in the employee’s situation as she goes further through the pregnancy and any new risks should be identified and appropriate actions taken.

It is not uncommon for an employer to advise the employee that they are going to do an expectant mother risk assessment and the employee will take quite a relaxed view

  • “we don’t need to bother with anything formal”or
  • “I’ll be very careful” or
  • “I’ll be fine, I’ve been pregnant before.”

But, there is no room for complacency and whilst there are risks to the expectant mother, there is considerable risk to the employer if something happens or there is an accident or, worst case scenario, the employee loses the baby.

However much an expectant mother risk assessment may seem like an unnecessary bit of paperwork, it is very important, gives peace of mind to both employer and employee and the employer is going some way to meeting their “duty of care” obligations.

Adrian Berwick offers HR support to SMEs and GP Surgeries and if you want any advice or guidance on the issues raised in this article, please either contact me on 07885 714771 or adrian@abhrsolutions.co.uk

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