Health and Safety

by Pete Fisher

New and expectant mothers

For more on the law concerning new and expectant mothers, see Employment Contracts.


Employees should notify their manager of their pregnancy so that a specific assessment of their work can be undertaken and any necessary changes made as soon as practicable.

Employees should also inform their manager if they have been through labour within the last six months and/or are breast feeding, particularly if the work involves the use of hazardous substances.


Once informed in writing that an employee is a new or expectant mother, the employer must implement any controls previously identified by risk assessment and/or carry out a specific risk assessment of her current work. This assessment must be properly carried out and not simply based on personal opinion (see New Southern Railway v Quinn).

Risk assessment

After notification, line managers must review existing risk assessments, undertake a specific risk assessment covering the person’s work activities, and then make any necessary changes to the work.

Some aspects of work can affect the safety of women who are pregnant or have recently given birth; there may even be a risk to the unborn child. For example, during pregnancy there is an increased risk of injury when lifting and carrying, and the jolts experienced when riding in vehicles off-road may increase the risk of miscarriage.

Aspects to consider

Specific advice should be sought from a doctor or occupational health adviser if the work involves

  • Working and travelling abroad
  • Driving during the latter stages of pregnancy
  • Night work
  • Intensive work patterns and shift work.


Studies have shown that the two aspects of work that most worry pregnant women are lifting and standing for long periods of time. To address these concerns, managers should look at the layout of the workplace and the work routine.

Display Screen Equipment

DSE needs to be comfortable to use. It may be necessary to alter the individual’s workstation during the term of her pregnancy; therefore, the assessment should be reviewed whenever necessary.

HSE guidance reiterates that there is no risk of radiation from DSE. However, to reduce any risk of concerns which could lead to harmful stress, the employee should be made aware of this guidance and, if necessary, consult with her doctor.

Manual handling

The amount, weight and frequency of items to be lifted and carried must be reconsidered, together with storage arrangements, to minimise stretching and bending, as hormonal changes will affect the ligaments. In addition, changes to the woman’s size and the altered centre of gravity may lead to postural problems, backache and greater susceptibility to injury when involved in manual handling tasks.

The risk will be reduced if the weight of items used and the distance equipment is carried is reduced.

Certain other activities, such as work on ladders or slippery surfaces, may become more hazardous as the pregnancy develops; as the woman’s size increases, agility reduces and balance alters, so these sorts of activities may become more difficult to achieve safely.

Hazardous substances

Any work involving the use of hazardous substances must be reviewed. Certain chemicals can have adverse effects on the foetus and use or contact with these substances must be eliminated.

Work routine

Where the work involves intense pressure that could increase blood pressure, advice should be sought from an occupational health adviser or the employee’s own doctor about how to manage the situation.

The person may suffer from morning sickness and unusual tiredness that may affect her work and any shift patterns.

Where possible, give the employee some control over the way work is organised in order to help reduce stress and lower her blood pressure.

Rest facilities

Regulations require that rest facilities and seating is provided for all staff (this can be at their desks), but it is particularly important for those who are pregnant, who may need to be able to take breaks and change their position more frequently.

Rest facilities for pregnant women and nursing mothers should be conveniently situated in relation to their work and sanitary facilities and should include the facility to lie down.

Residual risk

If, having made all possible adjustments to the work, the risk to the woman remains unacceptable, the line manager should consult with the employee and the HR manager with a view to a transfer to a suitable alternative work.

If a suitable alternative is not achievable, suspension from work on normal wages or salary may be considered, but this action should only be contemplated in extreme circumstances and must be carried out with full and proper consultation.