A new or expectant mother is a woman who is pregnant, has given birth within the last six months or is breast feeding.
Being pregnant or a new mother does not prevent you from working and developing your career. Many women work while they are pregnant and return to work while they are breastfeeding. In some workplaces, there are risks that may affect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers and that of their child and there are specific laws that require employers to protect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers.
What specific regulations are there to protect new and expectant mothers’ health and safety?
Specific laws relating to new and expectant mothers at work are mainly contained in:
- the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) which require employers to protect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers
- the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which require employers to provide suitable rest facilities
- the Equality Act 2010 which provides protection to pregnant women and those on maternity leave against discrimination - depending on the circumstances, this can include failing to carry out a risk assessment under MHSW regarding a pregnant worker
These regulations cover female employees of childbearing age and expectant or new mothers, including those who are breastfeeding.
What sort of risks might I be exposed to?
You may be at risk from processes, working conditions or physical, biological and chemical agents and these risks will vary depending on your health, and at different stages of your pregnancy. Some of the more common risks might be (as defined by the HSE):
- lifting/carrying heavy loads
- standing or sitting still for long lengths of time
- exposure to infectious diseases - further information about infection risks to new and expectant mothers in the workplace
- exposure to lead
- exposure to toxic chemicals
- work-related stress
- workstations and posture
- exposure to radioactive material
- threat of violence in the workplace
- long working hours
- excessively noisy workplaces
Do I have to tell my employer that I am pregnant or that I am breastfeeding?
If you are pregnant, have given birth in the last six months or are breastfeeding, you are not required to inform your employer, but we strongly encourage you to do so. However, it is important for you and your child’s health and safety protection, and for maternity leave purposes, that you provide them with written notification as early as possible - please see here for more details. When personnel have had written notification from you, your manager should revisit their original risk assessment to identify if they need to do more to make sure you and your baby are not exposed to risk.
As part of your employer’s general duties, a risk assessment in regards to your working environment should have been carried out and the outcome of this should not only be available to you but also advised (either directly or through your safety representative which may be your department or Area/Divisional Safety Officer) about the preventative and protective measures implemented to reduce, remove or control risk.
When you have told your employer in writing that you are pregnant, they may want to revisit their original, general risk assessment. If the risk cannot be removed, your employer must:
Action 1: temporarily adjust your working conditions and/or hours of work – if that is not possible
Action 2: you should be offered suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay) if available – if that is not feasible
Action 3: you should be suspended from work on paid leave for as long as necessary, to protect your health and safety, and that of your baby
Find more information on the general risk assessment produced by the Health and Safety Executive.
Concerns advice and guidance
If flowing the risk assessment you or your manager still have concerns in regards to controlling the risks to your health - you and/or your manager can contact occupational health for further guidance. We may want to involve your Divisional Safety Officer and/or take advice and guidance form the central Safety Office as well.
Similarly, if you have a pregnancy related medical condition, we would always encourage you to speak to you manager in regards to this as this may affect the outcome of the risk assessment and help to resolve the concern. However, you can contact Occupational Health for further guidance.
Breastfeeding on return to work
Should the new parent wish to continue breastfeeding on return to work, the department should be informed in writing so that the Risk Assessment for Expectant and Nursing Individuals can be reviewed.
A suitable private space and opportunity to express breast milk while at work can then be planned. A secure, clean fridge in which to store the milk, work breaks at appropriate times or flexibility of start and/or finish times whilst breastfeeding will be considered. See the NHS guidance on breastfeeding and work for information.