The TUC and Maternity Action have today (Wednesday) warned that employers are not doing enough to protect pregnant women at work.
The organisations have published new guidance which details steps bosses should be taking to keep female staff safe during and after pregnancy. The new guide says there are clear laws in place to protect new and expectant mothers. But warns that many bosses don’t know what they should be doing or are ignoring their legal responsibilities.
A recent survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that two in five (41 per cent) expectant mothers felt that there was a risk to their health or welfare at work during pregnancy.
The guide highlights the risks new and expectant mothers face. These risks include:
Irregular and long working hours: Working irregular hours such as night shifts can change circadian rhythms which regulate pregnancy hormones. And shift work and long working hours have been linked to miscarriages, and preterm births.
Travelling: Pregnant women may have an increased need to use the toilet which can cause problems for bus, freight and train drivers. There can also be a higher risk of musculoskeletal problems such as back pain during pregnancy which can be made worse by driving or sitting in a train, car or plane for long periods.
Stress: Constant stress in pregnancy can be damaging. Stress has been linked to poorer pregnancy health and possible developmental problems in babies.
Heat: During pregnancy, the body has to work harder to cool down both the woman’s body and that of the unborn baby, so a pregnant worker is more likely to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke. And pregnant women are also more likely to become dehydrated.
The guide suggests ways bosses can keep their pregnant staff safe including:
Making workstations like desks and checkouts more comfortable.
Changing workload or hours to reduce stress.
Varying starting and finishing times to make commuting easier.
Agreeing an increase in breaks to visit the toilet and drink more fluids.
The guide also sets out what employers need to do when a new mum returns to work, and how bosses can support their female staff with breastfeeding and expressing milk.
Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said,
Pregnancy can be a stressful enough time for any woman without them having to worry about dangers at work as well. 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. I’d advise every pregnant woman or new mum to join a union. Workplaces that recognise unions are safer and have better policies in place to protect all their staff.
Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action, said,
We know from the women that call our advice line that too many employers are failing to take the health and safety of pregnant and breastfeeding women in the workplace seriously. As a result, we know that many women end up having to choose between risking their own health or that of their baby, going off sick, or leaving their job altogether. Union reps have an important role in holding employers to account and ensuring that pregnant women are protected from workplace hazards.
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