A wide range of occupations and activities conducted by the University can potentially expose staff and students to physical, biological and chemical hazards associated with reproductive health effects. The effects of reproductive impairment can include situations which cause infertility, impotence, miscarriage, foetal malformation, underweight babies, and premature birth. Physiological changes in pregnancy also heighten the effect of certain workplace exposures.
The University recognises that additional precautions to normal safe work procedures and practices may be required for those staff and students, who may become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Staff and students
- Staff and students are encouraged to advise the supervisor as soon as possible when they become pregnant, since the first trimester can be a period of high susceptibility.
- Consult with their supervisor to assess the risks before working with or near workplace hazards.
- Pregnant staff and students are encouraged to discuss their work environment and duties with their personal physicians such as the use of a particular chemical.
NOTE: Information about your pregnancy can be requested to be maintained as confidential. Contact the UTS Medical Service, the Health and Wellbeing Partner (staff), an Academic Liaison Officer (students) or your treating doctor for confidential medical advice and support.
Supervisors and academics
- Should be aware that staff and students cannot be required to inform the University of their reproductive status, and should not be coerced to reveal personal information.
- Must inform staff and students at risk of exposure to significant reproductive hazards of the potential health risks to enable them to adopt suitable controls.
- Identify alternative work practices or assessments that do not disadvantage the student or staff member.
- All workplace risk assessments must take into account the risk to a female who may become pregnant, is pregnant or breastfeeding.
The risk of biological hazards to an unborn child or mother of occupational exposure to certain micro-organisms should be considered.
AS/NZS 2243.3 states that laboratory management shall inform all female staff of the risk to the unborn child or the pregnant woman of occupational exposure to certain microorganisms (e.g. Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria monocytogenes, cytomegalovirus, parvovirus B19, rubella virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Coxiella burnetii and hepatitis B, C and E viruses) and some fungi. The precise steps taken for protection will vary, depending on the microorganisms to which the woman may be exposed. Medical opinion may be required.
Animals can be another potential source of infection that may cause problems in pregnancy. Zoonosis is a medical term for diseases that can be transmitted directly from animals (including our pets). For example Toxoplasmosis ( a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii) can be passed from infected cats to humans.
Certain chemicals used at the University are known or suspected to harm foetuses or the reproductive health of adults. Some examples of reproductive toxins are: endocrine disruptors (DDT, methoxychlor, diethylstilbestrol, lindane, heptachlor, some plant estrogens), anesthetic gases, heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury), benzene, carbon disulfide, ethylene glycol monomethyl and ethyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, ethylene oxide, toluene, styrene, perchloroethylene, vinyl chloride, xylene, pesticides and formamide.
The first trimester of pregnancy is a period of high susceptibility. Often a woman does not know that she is pregnant during this period. Individuals of childbearing potential are warned to be especially cautious when working with such reproductive toxins.
Exposure to hazardous chemicals may occur through skin absorption, ingestion or inhalation. It is recommended that engineering controls such as exhaust ventilation or fume cupboards be used as well as Personal Protective Equipment and clothing to help control exposure to chemicals.
Exposure to chemicals at levels below recognised exposure limits should not present a risk to you or your unborn child during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding, however, pregnant women and women intending to become pregnant should seek advice from knowledgeable sources before working with the substances that are suspected to be reproductive toxins. These sources include but are not limited to the Safety and Wellbeing branch, Health and Wellbeing Partner, University Medical Service, your supervisor, and Safety Data Sheets for the chemicals you are working with.
Levels of exposure to ionizing radiation that do not harm a pregnant woman may harm the developing foetus, particularly up to 25 weeks gestation. Effects of ionising radiation on a developing foetus are dependent on the time of exposure relative to conception and the magnitude of exposure. Large doses of radiation have been shown to cause congenital malformations, mental retardation and an increased risk of child and adult cancers.
It is important to carry out a risk assessment if you wish to continue working with radioisotopes during pregnancy and follow the usual protective measures which include:
- Wearing a lead apron;
- Working behind protective barriers;
- Wearing laboratory coat and gloves;
- If working with a radioactive substance that may exist as an aerosol or be volatile use a fume cupboard or biological safety cabinet;
- Ensure appropriate monitoring of exposure levels continues with dose limits equivalent to a member of the public.
Staff in certain work groups are advised to have vaccinations to protect protect against infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis A, meningococcal meningitis, typhoid, Q fever and tuberculosis. If you are considering becoming pregnant, you should speak with your doctor about the kind of work you do and your immunisation status. Ideally, you should have all the vaccinations you require for your work environment prior to becoming pregnant.
Most vaccinations should not be given during pregnancy but some are regarded as safe while breastfeeding. If you have any concerns about immunisation that may be required for your work, you should seek advice straight away.
Working with computers
A good posture always is one in which you are comfortable and well supported by properly adjusted furniture. If good posture cannot be maintained at work using a computer then contact the Safety and Wellbeing for advice.
While physical activity and maintaining fitness is beneficial during pregnancy, it is important to recognise that physical hazards such as lifting; slip trips and falls exist in the workplace and should be considered in relation to pregnancy. Manual handling techniques, prolonged sitting and standing, travelling in cars, off-road vehicles and aircraft should all be assessed to avoid physical risks to the pregnant woman and unborn child. If your work involves manual handling, prolonged standing, repetitive lifting or maintaining awkward postures, then you should seek advice from your treating doctor.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be aware of the risks of heat stress and dehydration if working in areas exposed to excessive heat.
Any record created and maintained for pregnancy at work must be kept in accordance the UTS Records Management Procedure.