Pregnancy & Workplace Safety

You’ve come a long way baby – at least when it comes to being pregnant on the job

It’s normal to fret over factors that might affect your baby’s health, but it’s important to separate fears from fact, particularly when considering workplace hazards during pregnancy. While many jobs are perfectly safe, you may need to be extra vigilant about following safety practices or ask for modified duties. Here’s what to look for and what to do about it.

Chemicals
Long-term or repeated exposure to organic solvents, such as benzene, and heavy metals like lead can increase the chance of malformations and dysfunction in brain development, says Gideon Koren, a paediatrician and toxicologist, and director of the Motherisk Program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Workplaces: Battery and paint factories, automobile plants, darkrooms, gas stations, pottery studios, commercial trucking firms.

Protective measures: Ask if you’re uncertain whether the chemicals in your workplace pose problems during pregnancy. You’re also entitled to more frequent blood tests to ensure lead levels don’t exceed certain limits. Use recommended gear such as masks, suits and fume hoods.

Emotional Demands
Lengthy work hours and high stress levels may boost the odds of early labour.

Workplaces: Assembly lines and other workplaces that limit a worker’s sense of control; high-pressure occupations such as medicine and law.

Protective measures: Try to wrap up your workday within eight hours, and take a 10-minute breather every so often. During lunch or dinner break, enjoy your meal away from your workspace, and sneak in a snooze if possible. Delegate or share stressful tasks, or talk to your employer about easing back on your responsibilities. Combat stress hormones by practising relaxation techniques such as deep, measured breathing and exercising regularly. A daily half-hour walk can work wonders!

Infections
Blood and bodily fluids can transmit dangerous infections to you and your baby. But a few ordinarily harmless infections (for example, chicken pox and fifth disease) that can be picked up through more casual contact can pose a risk of miscarriage or developmental disability.

Workplaces: Dialysis clinics, daycares, preschools, laboratories, hospital laundries, doctors’ offices.

Protective measures: Pay attention to regular safety precautions. If unsure whether you’re immune to chicken pox or fifth disease, talk to your doctor.

Radiation, Radioactive Agents
Exposure to certain levels of ionizing radiation or radioactivity can increase the risk of malformations.

Workplaces: X-ray clinics, laboratories, nuclear medicine facilities, veterinary clinics.

Protective measures: Your employer should provide new dosimeters more often than normal and perform more frequent readings. Faithfully follow safety procedures. Ask someone else to hold animals during X-rays.

Physical Demands (Standing, Sitting, Lifting)
Physical changes may up the odds of falls and injuries. Long hours of sitting can cause back pain; swelling may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome. Very physically demanding jobs and those involving prolonged periods of standing may increase risk of premature labour.

Workplaces: Warehouses, factory lines, retail outlets, banks, farms, hospitals and home health care services, offices.

Protective measures: Take frequent breaks: Put your feet up if you’ve been standing, or go for walks if your job is sedentary, suggests Teresa Tales, a physiotherapist at St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre in London, Ont. If you’re stuck behind a counter or cash register, ask if you can alternate between standing and sitting on a stool. Use proper body mechanics when lifting, and keep loads under 25 pounds, particularly during your second and third trimester. If you develop back or wrist pain, consult a physiotherapist, who may suggest a special back support or keyboard, notes Chandra Farrer, a physiotherapist at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

If you have any questions about workplace safety, don’t hesitate to ask your occupational health specialist, caregiver, employer or union representative; or contact one of the organizations listed in Work Safety Resources, above.

“Women have the right to get the appropriate information. Oftentimes, they are scared to death for no reason,” Koren concludes.

By Wendy Haaf

 
 
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