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Covid-19 - Pregnant Employees

Employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of pregnant women who are working. This responsibility is laid out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Under these regulations, employers are required to carry out risk assessments. If there are risks, the employer must take reasonable action to remove or mitigate the risks by introducing control measures such as altering an employee’s working conditions or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; or by suspending the employee on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work). This responsibility both predates and continues throughout COVID19.

 

At the start of the pandemic there was considerable uncertainty. The RCOG, RCM and FOM published advice to those who were pregnant making recommendations for those who were in their first and second trimesters and those in their third trimester (after 28 weeks).

On 9th September 2020 they updated this advice. They archived the statement and instead have suggested that as previously individual risk assessments need to be undertaken by employers and an on the basis of that risk assessment the individual’s work plan should be decided. They have since further updated their Q&A for pregnant women (Jan 22) and note:-

You are advised to check the RCOG Q & A at the time of reading as advice may change rapidly.

Q. Why does the RCOG not provide detailed occupational health advice?

Earlier in the pandemic, the RCOG provided occupational health advice. This has now been archived.

The government has now published  Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees. This guidance notes that information contained in the  RCOG/RCM guidance on COVID-19 in pregnancy should be used as the basis for a risk assessment.

Evaluating safety at work for an individual requires knowledge of both the individual’s health and their job. Therefore, while the clinical information we have published still stands, the risk assessments and the resulting conclusions in relation to safety at work will differ by country, region and between employment sectors. A single recommendation is no longer appropriate and therefore, it has been necessary to archive our occupational health guidance for pregnant women.

The government guidance in brief (it is recommend that you read in full) says

The following recommendations apply for pregnant women who are less than 26 weeks pregnant

All employers must undertake a workplace risk assessment for their pregnant employees. The risk assessment should be conducted as soon as the employee notifies their employer in writing that they are pregnant. Employers should regularly review the risk assessment as the employee’s pregnancy develops or if the workplace or work conditions change.

Where a significant health and safety risk is identified for pregnant workers, employers should adjust the working conditions or hours to remove the risk, where reasonably practicable to do so, or offer alternative work on the same terms and conditions. If this cannot be done, employers should suspend pregnant workers on full pay. This is in line with normal requirements.

See further advice on health and safety for pregnant workers from HSE.

The following recommendations apply for pregnant women who are 26 weeks pregnant and beyond

Given the clinical data that suggest that risk of complications from COVID-19 increase from around 26 weeks’ gestation, further considerations should be made from this stage. However, general advice on reducing risk of COVID-19 infection applies at all gestations.

All employers must undertake a workplace risk assessment for their pregnant employees.

Pregnant workers should be supported by their employer with appropriate risk mitigations in line with recommendations provided by the workplace risk assessment. Employers should make sure the controls identified by a risk assessment for example adequate ventilation, good hygiene and cleaning, are applied strictly.

Pregnant workers who continue to come into work should also consider taking lateral flow tests regularly.

Pregnant workers should continue working only if the risk assessment advises it is safe to do so after suitable control measures have been put in place. Pregnant workers should be involved in the risk assessment process and be satisfied that their continued working in the area does not put them or their baby at risk.

Where a significant health and safety risk is identified for pregnant workers, employers should adjust the working conditions or hours to remove the risk, where reasonably practicable to do so, or offer alternative work on the same terms and conditions. If this cannot be done, employers should suspend pregnant workers on full pay. This is in line with normal requirements.

Employers should also offer support by having individual discussions around pregnant workers concerns, see HSE guidance on protecting new and expectant mothers at work.

Some higher risk occupations such those with greater public contact to COVID-19 (including those in some health and care settings) may carry a higher risk of exposure to the virus. In health and care settings this may include working in specific higher risk areas or higher risk procedures as summarised in the guidance on infection prevention and control.

See further advice on health and safety for pregnant workers from HSE.

 

The BMA note that an employer’s duty to take action in relation to infectious diseases, is where the level of risk at work is in addition to the level to which a new or expectant mother may be expected to be exposed outside the workplace. https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/covid-19/your-contract/covid-19-your-terms-and-conditions/your-terms-and-conditions-all-doctors

 

We would advise that employers and employees work jointly on the risk assessment and discussing the risks the employee faces in their role and then take reasonable action to remove the risks by altering working conditions eg remote working or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; or by suspending on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work). If there is any difficulty in reaching a mutually workable solution then Occupational Health advice should be sought.

 

The RCOG are regularly updating this page with information for pregnant women and their families and this includes research about the outcomes for pregnant women and babies with coronavirus. This may be helpful in discussions. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/

 

The situation continues changing and we would expect that decisions should be held lightly in the face of a changing local context and associated risks. Mutual agreement is essential.

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Updated on Wednesday, 16 February 2022 1551 views