Code of good practice on Pregnancy and Afterbirth
6. The indentification and assessment of Hazards
6.1 Physical hazards
The control of physical hazards in the workplace includes the recognition, evaluation and control of
6.1.1 exposure to noise, vibration, radiation, electric and electromagnetic fields and radioactive substances;
6.1.2 work in extreme environments;
6.1.3 control of the thermal environment (heating and air conditioning).
Schedule One describes the extent to which certain of these physical agents may constitute a hazard to the health and safety of pregnant and breast-feeding employees and suggests methods to prevent or control these hazards.
6.2 Ergonomic hazards
The application of ergonomics involves ensuring that work systems are designed to meet the employee’s needs for health, safety and comfort. A range of ergonomic risk factors may pose hazards to the health and safety of pregnant and breast-feeding employees and should be identified and assessed as part of the risk assessment programme. These include –
6.2.1 heavy physical work;
6.2.2 static work posture;
6.2.3 frequent bending and twisting;
6.2.4 lifting heavy objects and movements requiring force;
6.2.5 repetitive work;
6.2.6 awkward postures;
6.2.7 no rest;
6.2.8 standing for long periods;
6.2.9 sitting for long periods.
Schedule Two describes the extent to which some of these factors may constitute a hazard to the health and safety of pregnant and breast-feeding employees and suggests methods to prevent or control these hazards.
6.3 Chemical hazards
Contact with harmful chemical substances may cause infertility and foetal abnormalities. Some chemicals can be passed to the baby during breast feeding and could possibly impair the health and the development of the child.
The Hazardous Chemical Substances Regulations, 1995, issued under OHSA apply to all employers who carry out activities, which may expose people to hazardous chemical substances. These employers must assess the potential exposure of employees to any hazardous chemical substance and take appropriate preventive steps. The Regulations set maximum exposure levels for some 700 hazardous chemical substances.
The Hazardous Chemical Substances Regulations require employers to inform and train employees about, and in any substance to which they are or may be exposed. This must include information on any potential detrimental effect on the reproductive ability of male or female employees.
Regulation 7(1) of the General Administrative Regulations, 1996, under OHSA requires manufacturers, importers, sellers and suppliers of hazardous chemical substances used at work to supply a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which must include information on any reproductive hazards. Every employer who uses a hazardous chemical substance must be in possession of the relevant MSDS and must make it available on request to affected persons.
With the exception of the Lead Regulations, there are no regulations, which set maximum exposure levels of specific applications for women of childbearing age or pregnant women.3 In view of the absence of occupational health standards for the exposure of pregnant or breast-feeding women to chemical substances, care should be taken to minimise exposure to chemicals, which can be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Where this cannot be achieved, employees should be transferred to other work in accordance with section 26(2) of the BCEA.
3 European Council Directive 92/32/EEC classifies some 200 substances and preparations as falling into one of the following categories:
• possible risks of irreversible effects (R40)
• may cause cancer (R45)
• may cause heritable genetic damage (R46)
• may cause harm to the unborn child (R61)
• possible risk of harm to the unborn child (R63)
• may cause harm to breasted babies (R64)
The actual risk to health of these substances can only be determined following a risk assessment of a substance at a place of work, i.e. although the substances listed may have the potential to endanger health or safety, there may be no risk in practice. For example, if exposure is below the level that might cause harm.
Chemical substances that are known or suspected to constitute a hazard to pregnant or breast-feeding women and to the foetus or child are listed in Schedule Three below.
6.4 Biological hazards
Many biological agents, such as bacteria and viruses, can affect the unborn child if the mother is infected during pregnancy. Biological agents may also be transferred through breast-feeding or by direct physical contact between mother and baby. Health workers, including service workers in health-care facilities and workers looking after animals or dealing with animal products are more likely to be exposed to infection than other workers. Employees who have close contact with young children, such as teachers and ecu-care workers, are at increased risk of exposure to rubella (German measles) and varicella (chicken pox).
Universal hygiene precautions are required to prevent disease. These include high standards of personal hygiene, surveillance of staff in high-risk areas, appropriate sterilisation and disinfecting procedures, designation of person to be responsible for health and safety, the use of protective clothing and gloves and the avoidance of eating or smoking in laboratories or other risk areas.
Some of the biological agents that are known to constitute a hazard to the health of breast-feeding or pregnant women are listed in Schedule Four.