Though they may be necessary, accommodations need to be discussed with the worker
During pregnancy, workers may become more vulnerable to certain health and safety risks in the workplace. Certain things that were maybe benign may turn out to be huge hazards during a pregnancy. To ensure optimal safety for pregnant workers, employers need to ensure that they are putting into the place the correct measures.
As with anything related to safety, the first thing that should be done to ensure optimal safety for pregnant workers in the workplace is to do a risk assessment to see if there is any increased risk for them, says Catherine Bergeron, Health and Safety Team Lead, Peninsula Canada.
For example, if you have a pregnant person in the workplace, chemical safety is important. Employers and safety officers need to ensure that these workers are not in contact with chemicals that could be harmful to the parent or to the child.
Workplaces need to make sure that they have all Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) necessary to have all information about potentially dangerous exposures on hand. In addition, “what are the levels of exposure that could be harmful?” Asks Bergeron. “You should get someone in to do an assessment to see if it’s safe for the pregnant woman to work in these conditions.” And if you want to be extremely cautious, you may want to think about removing them from any environment which could be dangerous.
“That’s a conversation that you need to have with the pregnant woman. You have to be really careful in the way that you approach it so that it is not viewed as discrimination,” says Bergeron. This really is where HR and safety work hand in hand. These decisions need to be viewed as non-discriminatory, but as something where the workplace is doing right by the pregnant person. “It should be an accommodation that is within the normal parameters of the job.”
“You always have to be careful with accommodation, you really have to be careful not to fall into discrimination simply because someone is pregnant at work. You want to have the conversation openly and make sure that the employee understands that you’re doing this for their safety.”
Workplace ergonomics and how a pregnant worker interacts with their environment is also important. Employers and safety professionals may want to re-think a pregnant workers’ workstation – perhaps include more opportunities for the worker to sit down if necessary, or even place their workstation closer to a bathroom. Allowing for more breaks or reducing tasks such as heavy lifting may also need to be discussed with the worker. With working from home or hybrid work more popular as a result of the pandemic, these could also be solutions.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach as each workplace has its own specificities, “it’s really a case by case scenario, depending on the type of jobs that you have in place,” says Bergeron.
Bergeron also points out that workplace violence is also a risk for pregnant workers, for example teachers who may experience violent students, or nurses dealing with patients that have a risk of violent behaviour. “You should really remove the pregnant woman from those environments,” she says.
“The key would be to be prepared beforehand,” says Bergeron. “So if you know that you have some sensitive positions that can be dangerous for a pregnant woman, be prepared to accommodate them. It’s starting the thought process before it happens, if you want to be able to respond quickly.”