Employers need to do “far more” to protect the health and wellbeing of pregnant staff, with travel commitments and irregular hours among the factors creating unnecessary risk.
The TUC has claimed some organisations were ignoring their legal responsibilities when it came to keeping pregnant or returning mothers well. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must protect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers, while the 2010 Equality Act also provides protection from discrimination.
Its warning came after a survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found 41% of pregnant workers felt work risked their health, while law firm Slater & Gordon discovered a third of breastfeeding mums have been forced to use a toilet to express milk because of a lack of suitable facilities.
Ros Bragg, director of charity Maternity Action, said: “We know from the women that call our advice line that too many employers are failing to take the health and safety of pregnant and breastfeeding women in the workplace seriously.
“As a result, we know that many women end up having to choose between risking their own health or that of their baby, going off sick, or leaving their job altogether.”
The TUC and Maternity Action have produced a guide for employers to highlight some of the workplace risks pregnant workers or those who have recently given birth face. These include:
Irregular and long working hours – Working night shifts can change circadian rhythms, which regulate pregnancy hormones. Shift work and long hours have been linked to miscarriages and premature births.
Travelling and commuting – Women could be a long distance away from medical assistance in the event of difficulties or premature labour. Problems such as back pain might be exacerbated through extended periods of sitting, while travelling might limit access to toilet facilities.
Hot working environments – Pregnant women face an increased risk of heat exhaustion or dehydration.
Stress – The nature of a job might be stressful, but poor employer practices might also affect staff wellbeing. Stress can have damaging effects on the health of both mother and baby.
Chemical exposure – Some solvents, epoxies, resins, pesticides, disinfectants and sterilising fluids can increase the chances of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and birth defects.
The guide also provides advice around the facilities that need to be in place for returning mothers who need to express milk at work, as well as making adjustments to workstations to make them more comfortable for pregnant women.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Pregnancy can be a stressful enough time for any woman without them having to worry about dangers at work as well.
“Bosses need to do far more to ensure expectant or new mums are safe at work. Too many are ignoring their legal duty to remove risks from the workplace.”