Pregnancy at work

Health and safety of pregnant workers

Guide

You have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of pregnant mothers at work. This includes workers who could be pregnant as well as those who you know are pregnant.

Workplace risk assessment

Some substances, processes and working conditions may affect human fertility as well as pose a risk to a pregnant worker and/or her unborn child. Therefore, you must think about the health of women of childbearing age, not just those who have told you that they are pregnant.

If you employ women of childbearing age you should, as part of your normal risk assessment, consider if any work is likely to present a particular risk to them - whether or not they might be pregnant.

Notification from a pregnant worker

You should also encourage workers - eg via your maternity policy or staff handbook - to notify you as soon as possible if they become pregnant. This is so you can identify if any further action is needed.

You are entitled to ask a pregnant worker to provide:

  • notification of her pregnancy in writing
  • a certificate from a registered medical practitioner or a registered midwife showing that she is pregnant

Note that you do not have to:

  • begin to take any action in relation to a particular pregnant worker's health and safety until she gives you written notification
  • maintain any action in relation to her where she has failed to give you the certificate within a reasonable period of time - although you must have requested in writing to see the certificate

However, even if a pregnant worker has not formally notified you of her pregnancy, it is good practice to do a risk assessment for her if you become aware that she is pregnant.

Once a worker notifies you she is pregnant, you should review the risk assessment for her specific work and identify any changes that are necessary to protect her health and that of her unborn baby. Involve the worker in the process and review the assessment as her pregnancy progresses to see if any further adjustments are needed.

For more information on health and safety risk assessments, see health and safety risk assessment.

Potential hazards for pregnant workers

Things that might be hazardous to female employees - and pregnant workers in particular - include:

  • mental and physical fatigue caused by long working hours
  • night-time working
  • work-related stress
  • excessive noise
  • threat of violence in the workplace
  • exposure to toxic substances, eg lead, pesticides, mercury, carbon monoxide
  • exposure to radiation
  • lifting/carrying heavy loads
  • exposure to infectious diseases
  • sitting or standing still for long periods of time
  • unhealthy workstations or posture

If you identify a hazard which may create a risk to a pregnant worker, you must take steps to remove it, eg by adjusting working conditions, working hours or offering her suitable alternative work.

If this isn't possible, you must suspend the worker on full pay for as long as the risk to her and/or her unborn child remains.

New and expectant mothers - Health & Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) guidance.

Rest facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers

You're required by law to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest.

It's good practice to provide a private, clean and safe room for nursing mothers to express and store breast milk. Toilet facilities are not suitable for this purpose.