The HSE has recently changed its advice on risk assessments for pregnant women and new mothers, meaning that you are now required to do an individual pregnancy risk assessment for any staff member who notifies you in writing that they are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have given birth in the last six months. As well as this, you are legally required to have considered the risks to women of child-bearing age in your workplace as part of your general health and safety risk assessment.
Given the recent HSE updates, it’s a good time to review and refresh your pregnancy and maternity risk assessments; this blog discusses when to conduct and review a risk assessment to protect expectant or new mothers.
Keep an eye out for the next blog in our Focus on Employee Welfare series, which will cover what to include in your pregnancy risk assessment.
When to do a pregnancy risk assessment
Including women of child-bearing age in your general health and safety risk assessment
If you employ any women of child-bearing age, and the nature of the work could involve a particular risk to a new or expectant mother or her baby, you must take those risks into account in your general health and safety risk assessment. You will not be fulfilling your legal duties if you do not think about expectant and new mothers until an employee tells you she is pregnant.
Work will almost always involve risks to pregnant women and new mothers. Examples of risk factors include lifting and carrying heavy items, travelling for work, sitting or standing for long periods, exposure to workplace chemicals, fatigue and work-related stress.
You can use General risk assessment for an office, General risk assessment for a shop or other business open to customers, and General risk assessment for remote workers to help you identify risks to women of child-bearing age as part of your general risk assessments.
Risk assessments for staff members who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have given birth in the last six months
You must carry out a separate individual risk assessment when a worker tells you in writing that they are pregnant, breastfeeding or have given birth in the last six months. You can use Pregnancy and maternity: risk assessment to do so. It includes examples of common risks and ways to mitigate or remove those risks. Note that your risk assessment should not be a ‘box ticking’ exercise, and that our templates only provide examples of possible risks and ways to reduce or remove them. You must carefully consider what risks exist at your particular workplace and how you can best control or remove them.
As well as carrying out an individual health and safety risk assessment upon receiving notification that your worker is a new or expectant mother, you should:
- review your general risk assessment and check whether your existing controls and risk management are sufficient to remove or control risks to pregnant workers or new mothers;
- talk to your worker to check whether they have any specific concerns about their pregnancy (eg medical conditions) and/or concerns about carrying out their work during pregnancy;
- consult with your worker’s trade union representative or other health and safety representative (if they have one) to ensure you address their concerns; and
- record your findings and share these with your worker and their safety representative (if they have one).
Controlling or removing risks
If you identify a significant risk to your worker who is an expectant or new mother, you must decide if you can control or remove the risk and if not, take appropriate action to protect your worker. For example, you may need to give your staff member suitable alternative work (on similar terms and conditions that are not substantially less favourable than her existing terms) or, if that is not possible or effective, you must suspend her with full pay for as long as necessary to avoid the risk.
See Risks to pregnant women and new mothers for further guidance about changing an employee’s role to protect her health and safety during pregnancy.
You can use Pregnancy – health and safety letter if you wish to make changes to a pregnant employee’s role and Pregnancy – suspension on health and safety grounds letter if it is necessary to suspend them.
Reviewing your risk assessment throughout pregnancy
You must regularly review your worker’s risk assessment throughout their pregnancy, and for the first six months after childbirth, and make any changes as necessary to protect them. ACAS recommends that you have regular health and safety meetings with your staff member who is a new or expectant mother, to make sure you are considering possible risks at different stages of their pregnancy, any medical concerns that may arise, and whether the type of work they are doing has changed.
You should also review and update your risk assessments if you make any significant changes to your workplace or your worker’s duties.
Marion joined Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2018. She previously worked as a corporate/commercial lawyer for five years at one of New Zealand’s leading law firms, Kensington Swan (now Dentons Kensington Swan), and as an in-house legal consultant for a UK tech company. Marion regularly writes for Sparqa’s blog, contributing across its commercial, IP and health and safety law content.