As an employer, you have a legal duty to keep employees safe. This includes the safety of female employees of childbearing age and pregnant women and women who have recently given birth. Our report explains why you should conduct a pregnancy risk assessment, when to complete one and what a pregnancy risk assessment covers in terms of potential risks. We’ll also look at the laws and regulations concerning pregnancy in the workplace and your responsibilities as an employer.
Why should employers conduct a pregnancy risk assessment?
All employers want to keep their employees safe, and a pregnant employee may be more susceptible to injury – either to themselves or to their unborn child. Therefore conducting a pregnancy risk assessment can enable you to put measures in place to ensure their safety.
Reasons for performing a pregnancy risk assessment include:
- It’s your legal duty to protect a pregnant employee and their unborn child.
- It will identify the next steps you need to take to keep a pregnant employee safe.
- It will help avoid claims of discrimination within the workplace.
- It will encourage employee retention.
- It will protect your company from reputational damage.
Legal requirements for pregnancy risk assessments
Employers have a legal duty to keep women of childbearing age and pregnant mothers and their unborn children safe at work under The Management of Health and Safety Work Regulations (1999) (MHSW). The MHSW identifies specific risks that apply from working conditions (such as long hours and stress), physical risks (such as heavy lifting and posture) and biological or chemical risks (such as infectious diseases, lead and toxic materials).
There’s no absolute requirement for you to change the shifts of pregnant women who work at night. However, the Employment Rights Act, 1996 says if a pregnant employee has a medical certificate stating they can no longer work at night, you must suspend them on full pay. You can offer alternative employment on the same terms before considering a suspension.
Discriminating against a pregnant employee would breach The Equality Act (2010), which says that you should not treat pregnant employees “unfavourably” during the pregnancy and for a period of 26-weeks after they give birth.
The Equality Act covers women who give birth to a living child and if a woman “gives birth to a dead child” when more than 24 weeks of the pregnancy have passed. So, employers may be in breach if they discriminate against someone who has miscarried or experienced a stillbirth.
Breaching The Equality Act could lead to civil liability, risking reputation damage, a fine and a damages award made to the employee.
What is a pregnancy risk assessment?
A pregnancy risk assessment assesses the potential risks within the workplace. Don’t wait until an employee is pregnant to conduct a risk assessment because, by law, employers should include risks to women of childbearing age within any general workplace risk assessment.
However, you should conduct a risk assessment when an employee informs you that they are pregnant in writing. You should review the risk assessment in the second trimester (3-6 months) and a second review in the third trimester (6-9 months). You should also conduct a risk assessment when an employee returns to work from maternity leave.
Employers with over five employees should record any evaluation in writing.
Risks to consider as part of a pregnancy risk assessment
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) categorises three areas of pregnancy risk:
- Working conditions
- Physical conditions
- Biological and chemical hazards
All aspect of a pregnant employee’s working conditions should be considered including their safety and welfare when working alone, at height, with hazardous material, and equipment including DSE. Working conditions such as the noise, the temperature of the workplace, and vibrations caused by machinery should be considered too.
New and expectant mothers may be vulnerable to stress because of hormonal, psychological and physiological changes around pregnancy. Additional stress may occur if the woman has reason to be anxious about her pregnancy.
This is a broad area that covers:
- Long working hours
- Manual handling (lifting or carrying heavy loads)
- Movement and posture
- Sitting or standing for long periods
- Working at height
- Workstation and posture issues
Biological and chemical hazards
Workplace hazards in this area can include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Infectious diseases
- Radioactive materials
- Toxic chemicals such as pesticides
How to conduct a pregnancy risk assessment
The law requires employers to protect pregnant employees and new mothers from harm. Risks will vary depending on the working environment and your employee’s role. Some risks will be more evident than others. For example, some employees will handle the related stresses of pregnancy better than others.
As well as a physical risk assessment, you may wish to enter a dialogue with employees. Conducting a pregnancy risk assessment together sets the scene for an open and honest discussion between you. This allows you to ask if there are any conditions or circumstances relating to their situation that may affect their work, or if they have any concerns about continuing their work. You must also take into account any recommendations given by the pregnant employee’s doctor or midwife.
Conducting a pregnancy risk assessment means that employers must:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness within the organisation (hazards).
- Decide how likely it is that these hazards could cause harm and the degree of risk (this may change depending on the stage of pregnancy)
- Take action to eliminate the threat or control the risk if this isn’t possible.
There are various templates available to support employers with conducting pregnancy risk assessments. All incorporate the three steps set out by the HSE. Using an example, we can show how you’d navigate a pregnancy risk assessment with an employee.
Small retail organisation example:
In this example, a small retail business has an employee who usually sits at the till. Here’s how you might conduct a pregnancy risk assessment based on the HSE’s three individual steps.
- Step 1 (risk assessment) – Sitting for long periods increases the risk of thrombosis (clots) for pregnant and non-pregnant staff. However, pregnancy increases the pressure in the veins in your pelvis and legs so pregnant women may be at increased risk.
- Step 2 (likelihood and degree of risk) – Someone whose job is working at checkout has a high probability (likelihood) of sitting for a long time. A blood clot in blood vessels derived from sitting still can lead to a pulmonary embolism, an emergency but rare (degree).
- Step 3 (action to eliminate the risk) – In this example, you could limit the amount of time someone spends at checkout and offer regular breaks to move around. You could invest in a sit/stand desk in a similar instance with an office worker.
Alternative steps for managing risk in pregnancy
You should aim to offer suitable employment on the same terms and conditions where you cannot adjust working conditions.
If that isn’t possible, you should suspend your employee on paid leave to protect the health and safety of her and her child. In addition, employers have a legal duty to revisit, review and revise the general risk assessment if they suspect it is no longer valid or there have been significant changes to anything it relates to (including employees).
Having regular discussions with a new or expectant mother will help you monitor any changes and address any concerns about health and safety.
Where to download a pregnancy risk assessment template
You can download a pregnancy risk assessment toolkit, including a risk assessment template from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).