HSENI report on updated guidance for pregnant women in the workplace.
During the pandemic, pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from Coronavirus (Covid-19).
As information has become available guidance developed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has been updated and can be accessed at the following link:
Pregnant women are considered ‘clinically vulnerable’ or in some cases ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to Covid-19 infection (for more information please see:
Specific workplace information is also available on the HSE (GB) website at:
Pregnant women at any stages of pregnancy should not be required to continue working unless the risk assessment deems it safe to do so. Information contained in the RCOG guidelines should be used to assist in the risk assessment process. The RCOG with other bodies has also produced an occupational health statement which can be found at the following link:
Employers will need to take account of the latest medical advice as part of their risk assessment to determine what measures need to be put in place.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 already require an employer to risk assess and identify health and safety risks for new and expectant mothers. Preventive and protective measures must be implemented by the employer and include consideration of prevention of risks from Coronavirus. Information on the risk assessment must also be given to the employee. More guidance for employees please found at the following links:
If the employer cannot put the necessary control measures in place such as adjustments to the job or working from home, they should alter an employee’s working conditions or hours of work if it is reasonable to do so to avoid risks of contracting Coronavirus.
If these conditions cannot be met an employer should:
Please see the link below for further information:
Risk assessments should be reviewed on a regular basis. Additional information for new and expectant mothers including specific risks to consider is available on our website at the following link:
The following Frequently Asked Questions provide further advice on pregnancy and Coronavirus in the workplace including further reference material.
As soon as a staff member informs their employer they are pregnant they should conduct a New and Expectant Mothers risk assessment and a specific Covid-19 risk assessment. Responsibility for risk assessment in the workplace lies with the employer. The results should be shared with the pregnant woman. Where any pregnancy is complicated or where doubt exists about individual health risks, occupational health advice should be obtained and will help inform the risk assessment.
It will be important to consider reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus, including providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions. Occupational Health advice can be sought if necessary.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (NI) 2000, which afford added protection to new or expectant mothers, also apply to risks of Covid-19 arising from work. The risk assessments required under these regulations need to be on an individualised basis, that is specific to the individual and their employment setting.
The incidence of Covid-19 infection in the community will also need to be taken into account as this will be an important determinant of risk. Employers also need to be aware that pregnant women who suffer from a serious underlying health condition will be advised to take additional precautions. In most instances, the advice given previously by government to stay at home is likely to be appropriate while infection rates remain high. The Regulations also refer to circumstances in which suspension from work would be necessary.
An employer undertaking a Covid-19 risk assessment for a pregnant employee should consider the following areas:
Additional information can be found at the link below:
Yes, it does. A woman in the first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), with no underlying serious health conditions, should practise social distancing, follow relevant national guidance and provided the risk assessment shows it is safe to do so can work. Added protection may be necessary such as workplace modifications or personal protective equipment (PPE).
A more precautionary approach is recommended for a woman in the third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant), with advice that they should take a more precautionary approach. This is because pregnant women at this stage of their pregnancy are at increased risk of becoming severely ill and of giving birth prematurely if they contract the virus. Women should adhere to relevant national guidance, avoid contact with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, and significantly reduce unnecessary social contact. Where infection rates in the community are high it is likely that they should be advised to work from home.
If a pregnant woman has a serious underlying health condition - such as heart or lung disease - she will have been told to take additional precautions throughout the pregnancy to prevent her coming into contact with the virus. Individual risk assessment as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (NI) 2000 will guide the employer in what reasonable action is necessary to remove the risks by altering working conditions or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; working from home; or by suspension from work on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work).
The latest advice (22 March 2021) from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is that although the available data does not indicate any safety concern or harm to pregnancy, there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy. The advice can be accessed at the following link:
The current JCVI advice is that COVID-19 vaccines should be considered for pregnant women when their risk of exposure to the virus is high and cannot be avoided, or if the woman has underlying conditions that place her at high risk of complications from COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines should only be considered for use in pregnancy when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks for the woman and her baby.
Women should discuss the benefits and risks of having the vaccine with their healthcare professional and reach a joint decision based on individual circumstances whilst recognising the absence of safety data on the vaccine in pregnant women.
Irrespective of vaccination status employers are still required to carry out a risk assessment for Covid-19 to protect pregnant employees. This should follow the approach set out above and be in compliance with the various workplace regulations referenced. The RCOG have published guidance on this issue which includes questions and answers (22 March 2021):
A decision on whether a pregnant woman can return to work will be guided by the risk assessment. During the pandemic, all pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They were defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and in the early part of the pandemic were classed as ‘shielded’. The individual risk assessment will guide the employer in what reasonable action is necessary to remove risks by altering working conditions or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; working from home; or by suspension from work on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work). This assessment should take account of: the specific work environment; the rate of infection; the precautions required; and, any extra measures against coronavirus that the government either nationally or locally has recommended to safeguard pregnant women.
The advice will be informed by the risk assessment. In the first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), a pregnant woman who has no underlying health conditions can continue at work provided the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so having taken account of the specific environment, government advice and the precautions required. Employers must remove the risks or offer alternative duties should alternative duties not be available suspension on full pay will be necessary.
For women in the third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) extra protection is required. It is strongly recommended that stringent social distancing is applied which is based on the risk assessment specific to the particular workplace. It is better to work from home where possible, avoid situations which increase the risk of contracting coronavirus, and significantly reduce unnecessary social contact.
Pregnant women can continue at work provided the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so having taken account of the specific environment, government advice and the precautions required. Employers must remove the risks or offer alternative duties. In the first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), a woman with no serious underlying health conditions, should avoid, where possible working with patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection.
Some working environments, such as operating theatres, respiratory wards and intensive care/high-dependency units, carry a higher risk for all pregnant women of exposure to the virus and all healthcare workers in these settings are recommended to use appropriate PPE. Please see the following link to RCOG guidance:
HSENI has produced an example risk assessment for Covid-19 in workplaces. This can be downloaded at the link below:
Information from the NHS on how coronavirus could affect you, your baby and your pregnancy. Available at the link below:
Coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance for employers: Your duties on pregnancy and maternity. Available at the link below:
Covid-19 virus infection and pregnancy: Statement on Occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women (dated September 2020). Please see the link below for further information:
Coronavirus infection and pregnancy. Information for pregnant women and their families. Please see the links below:
Ways to limit the chances for the virus to spread between households and information for the public. Available at the links below:
Covid-19 advice for pregnant women and parents in Northern Ireland is available at the link below:
Advice for pregnant healthcare workers during Covid-19 is available at the following link:
Returning to the Workplace after Covid-19 Lockdown. A Toolkit (Dated May 2020) is available at the link below:
Covid-19 return to work guide for health professionals advising patients and employersguidance (Dated September 2020) can be found here:
Guidance for managers on ‘Long Covid ’and Retrun to work will find information at the following link:
Risk assessment during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can be found on the HSE website at the following link (dated November 2020):
Information on protecting vulnerable workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (dated November 2020) can be found at:
HSCNI Staff: Covid-19 Risk Assessment for BAME, Vulnerable and Pregnant Staff and Staff returning to work following shielding, (Published July 2020), can be found at the following link:
Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation - advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination.(Published 30 December 2020;Updated 6 January 2021), can be found at: