The safety of your employees must always be a top priority and, though it can never be guaranteed, there are many actions you should take to reduce risks and ensure your workers that you take their health and safety seriously.
One of these actions is to regularly conduct a general risk assessment of your workplace.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is the process in which you evaluate the hazards present in the workplace, the risks associated to these hazards and put control measures in place to make things safer and as risk-free as possible.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, it is every employers’ legal duty to carry out a risk assessment on a regular basis.
Risk assessments can come in many forms including but not limited to fire, COSHH and machinery. All findings from the assessment should be written up in a document, along with a method statement, and communicated to your employees.
We provide employers with a health and safety consultant (a competent person) that can complete a risk assessment of your business. Learn more about this service here
Conducting a risk assessment for expectant mothers
When completing a risk assessment of the workplace you should always consider the risks to women of childbearing age, even if there are no expectant mothers (to your knowledge) currently working at your business.
You need to keep in mind that an employee may be pregnant and choose not to notify you until they are a few weeks, even months, into their pregnancy so you should never wait until the news is broken to ensure their safety.
Assessing the risks that may affect an employee who informs you that they are pregnant should form part of your general and task assessments.
Once notified of a pregnancy in the workplace you should assess whether more needs to be done to avoid risks specific to her and, potentially, review/update your current risk assessments.
You will need to carefully consider the following in regard to expectant mothers:
- Physical Risks: They cannot carry heavy loads or conduct certain manual handling tasks (please note the ability to carry out manual handling activities will vary during different stages of the pregnancy), they may need access to seating if not already available, and they should not be exposed to loud noise.
- Chemical Exposure: They should not be exposed to certain dangerous or toxic chemicals, this should be identified in COSHH assessments.
- Working conditions: They may require easy access to a restroom, they are likely to be more fatigued and stressed, they should not work at height and they should not be put at risk of violent behaviour
In response to some of these risks, you might want to consider:
- Ensuring they do not work alone so that manual handling activities can be carried out by someone else
- Adjusting their role so that it is more suitable for their current physical restrictions
- Providing PPE for things like noise exposure and COSHH
- Changing their working hours or allowing them to work from home where possible
- Allowing early maternity leave from work
As an employer, you also need to be wary of the fact that as pregnancy progresses the nature and degree of risk will also change.
Though being pregnant is not an illness, it can be the cause of illnesses such as headaches/migraines, nausea, anaemia etc. – and these are all issues that you should discuss with said employee. You must ask them to provide any relevant medical reports so that you are aware of any sickness they have and can make necessary arrangements for them.
You also need to remember that everyone’s experience with pregnancy will vary and some workers may be capable of doing full-time work up until two weeks before they give birth; whereas, another worker might need to adjust their hours or even leave work a few weeks earlier.
That is why it is important that you have regular communication with any expectant mothers, so you can make arrangements as and when they are required.
Conducting a risk assessment for new mothers
If a female employee has given birth in the last six months, or is breastfeeding, then there may be some new risks that arise which will need to be assessed under an ‘individual risk assessment’.
Many of these hazards will be similar to those of expectant mothers, there may still be some physical restrictions and working conditions that need to be considered and appropriate adjustments might need to be made.
Again, it is best to discuss this with the mother when she returns to work in order to fully understand her personal requirements as it will differ for every new mother.
Your legal duty towards new and expectant mothers in the workplace
Beyond the risks and hazards that you need to assess and consider, there are also facilities that you need to provide to new and expectant mothers in the workplace.
For example, you cannot put any restrictions on new mothers breastfeeding whilst at work but it is not suitable for new mothers to express milk in the toilets so you must provide your employee with a private, healthy and safe environment to express and store milk.
Although this is not a legal requirement, it is best practice to ensure that breastfeeding mothers feel comfortable about returning to work and that they are supported by their employer as much as possible.
Furthermore, by law, you must provide somewhere for a pregnant or breastfeeding employee to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down. Pregnant workers are entitled to more frequent rest breaks and you should agree on timings and arrangements at an early date.
There are many Health and Safety and HR issues that arise because of a new or expectant mother in the workplace. If you would like further advice or support with an issue, then call us today on 0845 2626 260 and we can arrange a Pay As You Go service with one of our qualified consultants.