Employers need to be concerned about the safety of all of their employees, especially in industries that expose workers to dangerous tools, toxic substances, and hazardous workplaces. However, one particular employee is in need of extra protections and, by law, the employer must be aware of the additional dangers she faces and do all he can to protect her. We are talking about pregnant women, and their health and the health of their unborn babies depends on a safe work environment.
Hazards Faced by Pregnant Women
It is important to realize that current health and safety standards are set based on non-pregnant adults, so it is possible that workplaces where employees are exposed to hazards are following safety regulations that are not intended to protect pregnant women. When a worker discovers she is pregnant, she should discuss her condition and potential hazards with her doctor, employer, and health and safety office at work. Some considerations include:
- Pregnant women will absorb some chemicals, including most metals, at a higher rate due to an increased metabolism.
- Lab coats, hazmat suits, respirators, and other personal protective equipment will not fit once the baby begins to grow.
- Changes in the immune system, lung capacity, and ligaments of pregnant women can out them at an increased risk for illness and injury.
- Early in the pregnancy, the fetus is more vulnerable to certain chemicals as he or she experiences rapid growth and development.
If your work requires you to work with or around chemicals, lift heavy loads, work at a height, or wear special protective equipment, your employer should honor your request to change your duties for the duration of your pregnancy.
What Employers Should Do
Your employer may be uninformed about workplace safety for pregnant employees, particularly if pregnancy is unusual in your particular job. However, a conscientious employer will do the following to keep his expectant workers safe:
- Identify hazards in the workplace. Certain conditions that do not pose a risk to a non-pregnant worker could be a hazard to a pregnant woman. Things like stress, night shifts, long hours, standing for long periods, and noise could all prove dangerous to mother and baby.
- Follow health and safety requirements. As a baseline, all health and safety standards should be met, but if additional accommodations are needed to protect a pregnant worker, those standards should be raised.
- Create a smoke-free environment. Not only pregnant women are affected by second-hand smoke, but their babies are particularly vulnerable. If your workplace is not already covered by a smoke-free law, your employer should establish one for the safety of all workers, especially the unborn babies of pregnant ones.
- Make a plan for pregnant and breastfeeding workers. Some workplace exposures are only dangerous for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Employers should have a plan in place to reassign all or some of their duties as necessary to protect their babies.
- Request a health hazard evaluation. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides free health hazard evaluations for companies that request it. An evaluation will reveal potential hazards and educate your employer on how to protect pregnant workers from them. NIOSH does not penalize workplaces for safety violations.
As a pregnant worker, you have the right to ask questions of your employer and to protect yourself from exposure to danger. You also have the right to request a health hazard evaluation from NIOSH if your employer does not.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at work on the job in Kansas City you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.