It is important that the health and safety of pregnant teachers and support staff is not ignored. Long hours and a high workload, combined with prolonged periods of standing, bending and lack of access to toilets or rest facilities can have a negative impact on a pregnant woman and her baby in a school or college. Pregnant women working with children can be exposed to particular infections. Other working conditions – infant chairs, bustling corridors and transporting stacks of exercise books - can expose women to risks that they wouldn’t come across in other settings.
The COVID pandemic highlighted how frequently pregnant women’s rights to health and safety in schools and colleges were being breached.
Over a quarter of respondents to the NEU’s maternity survey in 2022 reported that they had not been given an individual risk assessment when they informed their employer that they were pregnant. A failure to undertake such a risk assessment amounts to direct sex discrimination.
NEU members can use this guidance to assert their health and safety rights at work.
An individual risk assessment must be carried out once you have informed your employer, agency, head, or line manager that you are pregnant. This should be undertaken by your employer or agency in collaboration with you and your union rep and should be reviewed periodically throughout your pregnancy.
Your risk assessment should take into account the particular risks to pregnant women working in the education sector and in your particular education setting. Some conditions such as unsuitable seating could lead to discomfort, back strain and fatigue.
Other activities such as prolonged standing, heavy lifting or violent assault could increase the chance of miscarriage or premature birth.
If you work in a hospital school or as a home tutor, you should be given full guidance on working with pupils who have infectious diseases or other medical conditions.
The Health and Safety Executive guidance on individual risk assessments explains the duties on employers and agencies.
If the risk assessment reveals a risk to you or your baby, reasonable steps must be taken to remove it or prevent your exposure to it. You must be provided with information on the risks and what action has been taken.
Following a risk assessment, your employer must take the following steps:
- Temporarily alter your working conditions or hours of work, if this is reasonable and avoids the risk, such as allowing extra breaks, ensuring that you can sit down and avoiding heavy lifting. This applies to all workers.
- If that is not possible or does not avoid the risk, your employer must offer you suitable alternative work on terms and conditions that are not substantially less favourable than your original job.
- If there is no suitable alternative work, your employer must suspend you on full pay for as long as necessary to avoid the risk.
Steps 2 and 3 apply to employees, and agency workers with more than 12 weeks in the same placement.
Your employer or agency must review the risk assessment regularly as your pregnancy progresses.
- Familiarise yourself with your terms and conditions – they should be listed in your letter of appointment. Seek out the maternity, safety and infectious disease policies that apply in your school or college - your NEU workplace rep or school office should be able to help you locate them.
- Use and share the practical pack of NEU Being pregnant at work resources. Advocate for your school to adopt the NEU model policy and use the model risk assessment – to improve the working conditions of other pregnant women at work.
- If you haven’t already done so, take a blood test to check whether you have immunity to rubella and chicken pox.
- If you work with very young children or in school with heightened incidents of biological or viral infections, and you have any doubts about any heightened risk of catching an infectious disease at work, seek advice from your medical practitioner.
- Speak to your medical practitioner about any other potential heightened risks to you or your baby based on your medical history or your domestic circumstances.
- Speak to your NEU rep or your local health and safety rep and discuss what aspects of your role could potentially pose a risk to your health or that of your baby.
- To trigger your health and safety protections, email your employer or agency to give notice that you are pregnant if you haven’t already done so. You can use the NEU sample letter to ask for:
- an individual risk assessment
- suitable rest facilities
- safe and fair working arrangements
- Attach the checklist for leaders on supporting pregnant women at work or you can ask your NEU rep to bring the checklist to the attention of your employer/headteacher.
- Contact women at your school or college who have worked while pregnant for tips and advice. Networking with other women can help you understand and assert your rights to be safe at work.
- Avoid any activities that you or the risk assessment have identified as a risk, such as lifting, carrying or playground duty especially in late pregnancy. Speak to your line manager or head so that alternative arrangements can be established.
- Keep records of your conversations and communications with your employer.
- Ask the union for support if your employer or agency does not undertake a risk assessment or put in place the facilities or arrangements that you need to protect your health and safety as an expectant mother.
- Ask for your arrangements to be reviewed if your needs change, for example if you need to change arrangements for rest or cover or if an infectious disease breaks out at your workplace.
- Contact your NEU rep or local health and safety rep if there is any delay or other difficulty in protecting your health and safety at work. If you need further advice about your rights at work, contact the NEU Adviceline on 0345 811 8111, or email us at [email protected].