In Great Britain, around 440,000 women each year continue to work during their pregnancy and approximately two-thirds return to work soon after giving birth. Almost half of these women experience some form of disadvantage at work because they are pregnant or take maternity leave.

Pregnancy is not an illness. Therefore, women should not be signed off sick simply because they are pregnant. Instead, they should be offered a change in working conditions or suitable alternative work. Employers have a legal and moral duty to protect women of childbearing age from hazards and risks in the workplace. In workplaces, some risks can affect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers and that of their child. Working conditions which are usually considered to be acceptable may no longer be suitable during pregnancy and/or for breastfeeding.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health (including mental health), safety and welfare of employees at work. This includes providing a safe place of work, safe systems of work, and information and training.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended) require suitable and sufficient assessments of health and safety risks at work to be carried out this includes employers protecting the health and safety of new and expectant mothers from work related ill health.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to provide adequate welfare facilities for new or expectant mothers. The Equality Act 2010 also provides legal defence against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.

Risk assessment

The law places duties on the employers to assess risks posed to new or expectant mothers and, where necessary, to take action to safeguard their health and safety, including health surveillance, if appropriate. This could be achieved by carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment. Employers must:

  • identify all the possible hazards
  • make sure that exposure to hazards is adequately controlled
  • put in place appropriate control measures which are properly maintained
  • monitor exposure in the workplace and carry out health surveillance, if required
  • provide information, instruction and training to new or expectant mothers.

Education for employees

Leaflets and information:

Education for employers

Leaflets and information:

Getting more help

The organisations listed below offer help and advice.