With almost half the workforce being women and many being expectant moms, for this mother’s day the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggests that employers and workers be aware of significant physical changes and workplace solutions to help assure a safe workplace for pregnant women.
For instance, when a woman is pregnant, her balance, reach distance, and lifting capability changes. Additionally, hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy affect ligaments and joints, which can cause postural problems, backache, and impairment of dexterity, agility, coordination, and balance. Pregnant women may be more affected by some ergonomic hazards such as awkward postures, heavy lifting, repetitive forces, and limited rest periods. As a result pre-term delivery, low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, and stillbirth could occur.
As a pregnant woman’s size increases, her reach distance is affected causing additional stretching, which can affect the arms, shoulders, and lower back. This can make lifting tasks particularly hazardous resulting not only in greater back pain, but having to carry the load farther from the body.
“Heavy lifting tasks can also cause the flow of blood in the body to be altered which can affect the fetus,” ASSE member and Practice Specialty Administrator Linda Tapp, ALCM, CSP, of Cherry Hill, NJ, said in her report titled “Maintaining the Safety and Health of a Diverse Workforce.” “Intra-abdominal pressures are also increased during heavy lifting. Hormone disturbances as well as nutritional deficits can also occur.”
Excessive standing during pregnancy can also cause concern, Tapp said. Standing for long periods of time can cause lower back pain. Prolonged standing can cause serious risk. For example, standing more than 36 hours a week or more than 10 hours a day, can lead to a variety of problems, Tapp noted.
Occupational safety, health and environmental professionals can help employers implement good workplace design principles and programs to help make the workplace safer. Although there is no one-size-fits-all-solution there are ways to increase safety for all and for expectant working mothers that include:
· Using material handling equipment whenever possible and practical — material handling equipment reduces the need to lift, lower, push, pull or carry heavy materials; forklifts and other powered trucks should be used to eliminate manual handling of heavy bags, pails and other materials; carts, conveyors, ball caster tables and hand trucks should be used to eliminate carrying materials greater than 20 feet;
· Reducing the weight of objects that must be handled not only make the task easier for older and women workers but make the job safer for everyone;
· The risk of handling materials can be lowered for all workers by ensuring good housekeeping practices are followed; floor surfaces should be kept dry and free of debris, clutter, oil, chemicals, water and other slippery materials; pallets should be in good condition without broken boards or protruding nails;
· Safety/ergonomics training on material handling techniques that covers body mechanics and preferred postures should be ongoing; and
· Providing a workplace with features that can be adjusted to accommodate the physical needs of all workers.
Workplace controls implemented for expected mothers protect them as well as the child. These controls include: assigning less physical tasks, restricting lifts, adjusting work and breaks, and varying the employee’s tasks if possible; using foot rests when standing and sitting helps with circulation; removing obstacles, which are more difficult for a pregnant employee to see, at floor level; arranging work so that it is kept close to the body; and, encouraging the use of good support for the back.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 the 20 occupations with the highest percentage of female workers are: preschool and kindergarten teachers; dental assistants; secretaries and administrative assistants; dental hygienists; child care workers; word processors and typists; receptionists and information clerks; speech-language pathologists; tellers; licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses; medical records and health information technicians; registered nurses; payroll and timekeeping clerks; teacher assistants; bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks; dietitians and nutritionists; medical assistants and other healthcare support occupations; billing and posting clerks and machine operators; switchboard operators, including answering service; and, paralegals and legal assistants.