One of the first things you need to do when an employee tells you she is pregnant is conduct a risk assessment for her. In this article we explain why this is important, how you need to do it and what happens afterwards.
Well first and foremost it’s a legal requirement to conduct risk assessments for pregnant employees. The need for pregnancy risk assessments doesn’t only apply in jobs that are obviously ‘risky’, such as roles involving very physical work, or handling dangerous substances. In fact a risk assessment is necessary in any job, as tasks or a working environment that would not normally be an issue can present a risk to a pregnant employee’s health and safety.
But if you assess these risks and address them, you will not only be complying with your legal obligations, but will also make your pregnant member of staff more comfortable and possibly enable her to work for longer as well.
The risk assessments should be carried out by a competent person. This doesn’t mean you need a health and safety specialist, and that wouldn’t be possible or necessary in many small businesses anyway.
A competent person means someone who understands the requirements, and understands their own limitations and when to seek advice or resources elsewhere. A line manager is usually appropriate if there is no person with overall health and safety responsibility or particular experience in conducting risk assessments.
When doing the risk assessment, make sure you consider all aspects of your employee’s work and working environment. She may well have concerns about particular aspects of her work so do seek her input and take that on board. Similarly, it’s possible she may have had advice from her doctor or midwife which should also be considered. No pregnancy is the same, so bear that in mind and don’t assume that because something was fine for a previous pregnant employee, that that will always be the case.
Things to consider include physical risks, which might be manual handling, or even posture and support at a desk; biological/chemical risks; and other working conditions which could include facilities, working hours, travel requirements, temperature of the workplace and stress.
Use a checklist or form to ensure you cover everything and record the risks identified and proposed actions carefully.
If a risk assessment does not identify any hazards or risks, you should simply record that and continue to monitor and review the situation.
If you do identify a risk, you must take action to remove, reduce or control the risk. That might include changes to tasks, changes to the working environment, additional protective equipment, changes to hours or other working arrangements. Again, take on board the views of your employee as to what adjustments might work.
If you can’t make changes to her own job to enable her to work safely, you will need to find her alternative work.
Obviously this can present difficulties in a small business so it may be that you literally have nothing else that she can do. If that’s the case, you will need to suspend her on health and safety grounds, on full pay, for as long as necessary to avoid the risk, which might mean for the duration of her pregnancy if changes are unlikely to become possible later on.
Review and monitor
You should keep risk assessment under review anyway, but this is particularly important in pregnancy. Even if conditions and tasks stay the same, the extent to which they present a risk to the employee may well increase as her pregnancy progresses, and she may develop one of various pregnancy-related conditions which become relevant to the safety of her role.
You should schedule in reviews during the pregnancy, but also encourage the employee to raise concerns or queries herself as she is best placed to understand her own job and how relates to her pregnancy. A review should also be conducted automatically if there are changes to the employee’s role or working environment.
If you need further on advice on carrying out risk assessments for pregnant members of staff, do get in touch.