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       Hazards, number 146, 2019
Expecting more: New push to ensure expectant and new mothers are safe at work
For two decades employers have had an explicit legal duty to ensure the health and safety at work of expectant mothers. But two in five mums-to-be still believe they have been placed at risk during their pregnancy.
Hazards spells out their legal rights and how to get them.


In 1994, Hazards advised union reps to prepare for new legal rights due to take effect in the UK thanks to the European pregnant workers directive (Hazards 46).  The Hazards factsheet trailed what would become the expectant and new mother safety provisions in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Hazards provided a comprehensive list of the hazards that might affect a working mum-to-be or new mum, from stress, to chemicals, ergonomic risks, vibration, passive smoking, night work, standing, sedentary work, work at heights or in adverse environments, radiation, violence and infections.

But 20 years after the law came into effect, the TUC and Maternity Action have warned that many bosses still don’t know what they should be doing or are ignoring their clear legal responsibilities to protect new and expectant mothers. The groups point to a survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that found two in five (41 per cent) expectant mothers felt there was a risk to their health or welfare at work. 

Managing pregnancy and maternity in the workplace, the report of a 2018 EHRC study, found: “One in 25 mothers (4 per cent) left their jobs because of risks not being tackled.”

The TUC/Maternity Action guide comments: “According to the EHRC, expectant mothers in workplaces that did not recognise a trade union were more likely to leave their job due to risks not being tackled than in unionised workplaces. In workplaces that recognised unions, employers were more aware of the employees’ rights and had more transparent policies.”

The guide suggests ways bosses can keep their pregnant staff safe and sets out what employers need to do when a new mum returns to work, and how bosses can support staff with breastfeeding and expressing milk. 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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.”

Rosalind Bragg, director of Maternity Action, added: “Union reps have an important role in holding employers to account and ensuring that pregnant women are protected from workplace hazards.”

Assess early, assess often

The TUC/Maternity Action guide says focusing on the health and safety issues related to pregnancy “is not about trying to wrap all pregnant women in cotton wool.  “It is about accepting that, in some workplaces, there are very real and potentially serious risks that need to be assessed and controlled.”

The guide advises that for most women who are at work when pregnant, the risks to them, the fetus or their baby are relatively low and they can continue to work without any problems. But each pregnancy is different, as is every workplace. “The most important thing is to ensure that the employer consider the risks and takes any necessary action to control them and that the pregnant woman is involved in the process and any concerns are met,” it says.

The Health and Safety at Work Act places a general duty of care on all employers, and this includes addressing the specific needs of new and expectant mothers. The law covering pregnant women at work explicitly, as well as new mothers, is the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Regulation 16 requires that risk assessments cover any specific risks to females of childbearing age who could become pregnant, and any risks to new and expectant mothers.  

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination for pregnant women and those on maternity leave.

The Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to provide suitable rest facilities for both pregnant women and nursing mothers (regulation 25). “In practice the main requirement is to do a risk assessment and then manage the risk,” the guide notes.

“Many employers wait until the worker notifies them that they are pregnant before doing anything. This is wrong. Any employer who has women of childbearing age should ensure that their general risk assessment includes any risks to new and expectant mothers.

“This is because many women do not know they are expecting until relatively late in the pregnancy, and even if they do, there are many reasons why they may choose not to disclose their pregnancy to their employer until quite late in the pregnancy.”

It adds if the general risk assessment reveals any risk, it must be removed or reduced “as far as is reasonably practicable”. Once an employer is notified that a worker is pregnant, they should revisit the original risk assessment. The risk assessment should be reviewed as the pregnancy progresses.

The risk assessment should identify specific risks to be addressed. This may involve:
Making adjustments to workstations such as desks, checkouts or benches to make them more comfortable and to avoid unnecessary standing, or awkward sitting positions.
Changing workload or working hours to reduce stress. It may help to vary starting and finishing times to make commuting easier.
Agreeing additional breaks to ensure a pregnant worker can visit the toilet more frequently and can drink plenty of fluids.
Giving the worker more control over the temperature of her workspace so she can make it cooler or warmer.
Removing exposures to chemicals, noise or vibration, or other potential risks.
Providing suitable rest facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Protecting pregnant women from infection risks, for example from regular contact with children, the sick, people who are more likely to have an infectious or contagious disease, or animals.
Ensuring work contacts and clients are encouraged to notify employers if they develop or carry any transmittable disease.



Do not wait until you become aware there is a pregnant woman in the workplace before checking that the correct procedures are in place. The employer should have a written policy outlining what they do to protect the health, safety and welfare of pregnant and new mothers. Ask to see it.
Ensure workers always have access to copies of risk assessments that cover their work. If a woman is not ready to tell her boss she is pregnant, the union safety rep can obtain risk assessments and ensure workers can see them.
Review risk assessments to check they cover all the potential risks to women who may be pregnant and that these have been controlled - not just once the employer knows that a worker is pregnant. Union safety reps have a legal right to this information.
Ensure a revised, specific risk assessment is prepared and made available once a woman notifies her employer she is pregnant, and that this is reviewed regularly during the pregnancy.
Make sure that there are suitable rest facilities available, as well as arrangements to allow for expressing and storing breast milk.
Check what steps are taken to ensure a revised risk assessment/refresher training is available when a new mother returns to work.
Make sure the employer has procedures in place to support new mothers, or those who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Make sure pregnant workers know their rights. Keep in touch as the pregnancy progresses to check whether she might need further adjustments or support negotiating with the employer.

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Expecting more

For two decades employers have had an explicit legal duty to ensure the health and safety at work of expectant mothers. But two in five mums-to-be still believe they have been placed at risk during their pregnancy. Hazards spells out their legal rights and how to get them.

Assess early, assess often
Providing protection: Risks to new and expectant mothers
TUC safety reps’ action checklist


Women and work hazards

  Pregnancy, breastfeeding and health and safety: A guide for workplace representatives, TUC, May 2019. [pdf version].

Maternity action
Health and Safety during pregnancy and on return to work guide
Advice line: 0808 802 0029

New and expectant mothers webpages
New and expectant mothers who work guide

Cartoons: Andy Vine