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Health & Safety Update - Feb 2010

Expectant MothersEmployees have a legal responsibility to assess possible risks to new and expectant mothers in the workplace. Once these risks are identified, the new or expectant mother is entitled to a change in working conditions, be offered more suitable alternative work, and if that’s not possible – suspended from work on full paid leave.

In a recent case, O’Neil v. Buckinghamshire County, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that an employer only has a duty to complete a risk assessment for a pregnant worker once the following preconditions are met:

  • the employee must inform her employer (in writing) that she is pregnant
  • the work to be carried out could involve a risk of harm or danger to the health and safety of the expectant mother or baby;
  • the risk arises from either processes, working conditions or physical, chemical or biological agents in the work area.

HSE has outlined the following hazards which could pose as a risk to expectant mothers:

Physical hazards:

  • Awkward spaces and workstations
  • Vibration
  • Noise
  • Radiation (covered by specific legislation)

Biological agents

  • Infections

Chemical hazards

For example, chemical; handling (handling drugs or specific chemicals such as pesticides)

Working conditions

  • Inadequate facilities
  • Excessive working hours (night work etc)
  • Unusually stressful work
  • Exposure to cigarette or smoke

Head of HSE’s Health Management Unit, Colleen Bowen, gives us all something to think about:

"Pregnancy is not an illness. Pregnant women should not be signed off sick for work-related ill health problems. New and expectant mothers are entitled to a change in working conditions, should be offered suitable alternative work, or if that’s not possible, suspended from work at the same rate of pay if risks to her or her child’s health and safety have been identified. Employers have a legal and moral duty to protect women of childbearing age from hazards and risks in the workplace. HSE will investigate complaints made to them and take whatever action is deemed necessary under health and safety legislation.

The Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010

These new regulations come into place on April 27th and aim to protect workers against exposure to harmful artificial light. For example, laser displays and includes sources of ultraviolet, infrared, and visible light.

Some examples of hazardous sources of very intense light, which pose a ‘reasonably foreseeable’ risk of harming the eyes and skin, include:

  • Metal working – welding and plasma cutting
  • Printing – UV curing of inks
  • Medical and cosmetic treatments – laser surgery, blue light and UV therapies
  • Research and education - all use of Class 3B and Class 4 lasers
  • Entertainment – highintensity lighting and lasers.

Also note: less common hazardous sources can be linked to specialist activities – such as, companies who manufacture or repair equipment containing lasers which would otherwise be concealed.

All employers do already have a duty (under existing health and safety law) to protect their workers against these hazards, and the new AOR regulations simply reiterate the need for adequate risk assessments.

Safe light sources include:

  • All forms of ceiling-mounted lighting used in offices etc with diffusers over the bulb.
  • Photocopiers
  • Computer or similar display equipment, including personal digital assistants

Note: Intense sources should be used at a safe distance from workers.

Precautions you should already be taking:

If you have a hazardous light source you should have in place set of adequate control measures which follow the principles below:

  • Use an alternative, safer light source which can achieve the same result
  • Arrange work to reduce exposure of workers and others – restrict access to hazardous areas
  • Provide suitable personal protective equipment. For example, goggles and face shields
  • Provide information and training to employees
  • Have emergency arrangements in place
  • Completed a risk assessment.

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  • 1st February 2010
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