Post By: Celeste McLaughlin, Ergonomics Manager
Produced by: Solutions Northwest, Inc. (Ergonomics Experts serving Washington, Oregon, and California)
“About 75 percent of women in the workforce are of reproductive age, and more than half of new mothers are employed.” Workcare
While pregnancy is generally a joyful time, it can impact your safety outlook in the workplace. Considering that “more than half of new mothers are employed” according to Workcare, it is important to discuss any possible job hazards with your employer and educate yourself on what hazards to look out for and how to avoid workplace injury.
There are many temporary adjustments and additional precautions workers can take to stay safe when working while pregnant.
What are some of the workplace hazards to look out for?
As with all safety issues, it is important to always speak with your doctor. Additionally, you should never hesitate to speak to your workplace administrator or human resources department for assistance specific to your job tasks.
In general, occupational hazards and limits are set for non-pregnant workers and what is safe for you may not be safe for your unborn child. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers some examples to consider:
- “Changes in your metabolism increase how quickly you absorb some chemicals (e.g. some metals).
- Because of physical changes, the personal protective equipment that you could wear correctly before pregnancy may not fit properly, such as lab coats or respirators.
- When pregnant, changes in your immune system, lung capacity, and even ligaments can alter your risk of injury or illness due to some workplace hazards.
- A fetus might be more vulnerable to some chemicals because of its rapid growth and development, particularly early in pregnancy when its organs are developing.”
- During pregnancy, women experience fluid retention, which may cause vulnerability to De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sheath that surrounds the tendon, especially if a repetitive job is involved. Outside of the workplace, new mothers experience wrist and thumb pain from lifting their baby or holding their baby’s head during feeding.
Additionally, the CDC.gov website provides job specific examples at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/pregnancyJob.html.
It is also recommended that employers perform a worksite-specific evaluation of hazards and contact an ergonomics specialist for an ergonomics assessment.
What can you do to avoid injury?
Aside from getting plenty of rest and not overworking, communication with your employer is key. It is important to communicate with your employer and learn more about their safety protocols as well as your safety options as a worker.
Once you notify your employer, they should be trained to provide accommodations for you and be open to providing any additional, reasonable accommodations needed.
Additionally, it may be necessary to contact an ergonomics expert to ensure that your workstation (for example, a computer desk) is properly adjusted to your needs.
Be sure to know your rights
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “if the employee can no longer perform the essential functions of their position, and there are no other reasonable accommodations available, reassignment to an open position, or if no open positions, a leave of absence, may be the only potential reasonable accommodations possible. However, it is important to be aware, an employee may not be forced to take a different position or a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation, if there are other reasonable accommodations available.”
SolutionsNW.com recommends that pregnant workers visit https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnant_workers.cfm to review their legal rights in the US.
Due to several workplace protections set in place for pregnant workers, you should have a positive experience. If you are the workplace admin or work in the human resources department, be sure that your workplace is properly prepared for pregnant employees by knowing the laws listed by the ADA, the CDC, and OSHA.
It is also a good idea to have experts on standby, for example, for any ergonomics issues you may encounter, you can contact an ergonomics specialist to assess your workplace and ensure your workstations are flexible for a variety of workers.
Hopefully these ergonomics tips can help keep your workplace a safe work place. For more guidance on all work related health and safety issues, visit SolutionsNW.com or Contact Us for more information.
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