As an employer in the UK, you must maintain your health and safety responsibilities, which includes conducting a risk assessment of the workplace. When an employee informs you that they are pregnant, you should arrange a meeting with them to discuss their pregnancy needs and how this could affect their job role. The UK Health and Safety Executive have stated that it is not a legal requirement to conduct a specific risk assessment for a pregnant employee, but it is certainly advised that an employer does, to ensure that pregnant employees can continue to work safely.
Risks to pregnant employees at work
The range of risks which can occur in the workplace could be chemical, biological, physical or ergonomic. Chemical risks could include being exposed to welding fumes, pesticides or carbon monoxide, which can vary depending on your workplace environment. Ergonomic risks, which might affect a pregnant employee far more, could include those partaking in repetitive work that could strain their body's position and lead to ergonomic related disorders.
Certain risks in the workplace might not have previously affected an employee, but now the employee is pregnant, the workplace risk might affect their safety and their unborn child's safety. There might be certain parts of a pregnant employee's job role which they can no longer perform as they used to, because they are now pregnant. For example, if a job role previously demanded an employee to work on their feet for long periods of time, the employee might not be able to do this whilst they are pregnant.
The specific risks which you should consider in your risk assessment, which will affect pregnant employees, are the following:
- Standing for long periods of time.
- Sitting for long periods.
- Lifting heavy objects at work.
- Handling hazardous substances.
- Working around radiation.
- Working at height.
- Working in extreme weather conditions.
Once an employer finds out that an employee is pregnant, the employee could face discrimination or unfair treatment which could be detrimental to their mental health. Stress at work can have physical and emotional effects. It can make an individual very depressed and can affect the health of the employee and the unborn child.
Aimee Sanderson, a pregnant employee at Bespoke Digital Agency Limited, found that her boss began to treat her unfairly after finding out that she was pregnant. A tribunal case was held in July 2019, which held Aimee Sanderson's boss to account for the maternity discrimination which she suffered. Aimee Sanderson highlighted the anxiety which she suffered as a result of maternity discrimination, which affected her pregnancy journey significantly. The mental health problems which maternity discrimination and unfair treatment can inflict upon pregnant employees are serious, and therefore employers must show consideration, respect and support to pregnant employees in the workplace.
If an employer does not conduct a risk assessment properly, by taking into consideration all physical and emotional risks present, there can be serious repercussions. The UK Health and Safety Executive, the body responsible for regulating workplace health and safety, will launch thorough investigations into organisations which fail to conduct risk assessments in the workplace.