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When it comes to workplace personal protective equipment (PPE), one size does not fit all. Ensuring the proper fit is critical, especially for people experiencing significant changes to their bodies during pregnancy.
There are many physiological and physical changes that occur during pregnancy. Making sure that pregnant workers are protected from workplace hazards is an ongoing process and may look different for each worker. Eliminating hazards, increasing ventilation, modifying tasks, and adjusting work schedules and procedures are some of the ways workplaces can protect pregnant workers. As an added layer of defense, workers are also often required to wear PPE.
Here are some ways employers can ensure the safety of pregnant workers using PPE.
Consider individuals when assessing risks
Start by reviewing the potential hazards that the pregnant worker might be exposed to in their roles, plus the controls currently in place. Re-assess the risks associated with the tasks and determine whether modifications are needed to ensure the worker’s safety. If required, choose PPE that is appropriate for the task at hand, considering each item’s comfort, fit and weight. Note that some PPE that fit previously may need to be re-fitted and new sizes offered. For example, a person should redo their respirator fit test regularly to ensure the proper size. Similarly, coveralls, uniforms, or lab coats may need to be adjusted or new sizes provided to accommodate changes in body size during pregnancy.
Remember that every person’s experience of pregnancy is different. What works for one worker won’t necessarily work for another. Conduct individual assessments to understand each worker’s specific needs and concerns regarding PPE. Engage in a dialogue with them to determine adjustments or accommodations that might be necessary to ensure their safety.
Encourage pregnant workers to consult with their healthcare provider about any concerns related to their job and PPE. This medical advice can help inform decisions about the work they do and the type of PPE that is safest for them.
Seek out other control methods
Personal protective equipment is meant to be among the last lines of hazard control, so consider ways to adapt job design so that PPE doesn’t have to be relied on as heavily. Whenever possible, assign pregnant workers to tasks that pose minimal risks and require less demanding use of PPE. This can help reduce discomfort and stress on the worker.
Help address concerns by allowing pregnant workers to take more frequent breaks as needed. Wearing PPE can be physically demanding, and they may require extra time to rest and hydrate. Pregnant workers have a greater demand for oxygen which may make respirator use more challenging. They are also more susceptible to heat stress, so ensure that their PPE allows for proper ventilation and cooling.
Review and refine your training, policies and procedures
Train all employees, including pregnant workers, on the proper use, fit, maintenance, and limitations of PPE. Make sure pregnant workers understand how to wear PPE correctly and are aware of any special considerations for their condition. To create a more supportive work environment, encourage an ongoing dialogue among supervisors, managers, and coworkers about the unique needs and considerations of pregnant workers.
Perform regular checks to ensure that PPE continues to fit properly throughout the pregnancy, as workers will likely experience changes in body shape and size. Regularly review and update your organization's policies on pregnant workers and PPE based on any changing regulations and guidelines.
Be sure to document all risk assessments, training, consultations, and any accommodations made for pregnant workers using PPE. This documentation can be a helpful reference for supporting pregnant workers in the future.
Keep in mind that regulations and guidelines may vary by jurisdiction and industry. Always consult the latest guidance from relevant occupational health and safety authorities and adapt your practices accordingly.
Communication is key
It’s crucial that employers listen to pregnant workers’ concerns about fit, comfort, and safety issues related to their PPE. Maintain an open line of communication throughout every pregnancy. Be responsive to workers’ needs and adapt as necessary to ensure their safety and comfort. Establish a clear process they can use to report any discomfort, issues or concerns about their work and PPE, making sure they feel comfortable about speaking up without fear of reprisal.
Together, employers can help support workers through their pregnancy by offering an inclusive workplace where their concerns and needs are considered, and their health and safety protected.
All workers in Canada have rights, including the right to a safe work environment. In fact, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (or equivalent) entitles all workers to:
Help workers understand their rights. Share our free fact sheet on the three rights of workers, now available in eight languages: Hindi, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Ukrainian, French and English.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Breaking the Cycle of Workplace Bullying
Despite growing national conversation on violence and harassment in the workplace, bullying continues to affect many workers. CUPE’s National Health and Safety Representative, Dr. Andréane Chénier, discusses how some organizations are approaching the issue.
Podcast runs: 11:10 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Eye-Opening Tips to Prevent Digital Eye Strain
A recent study reported that Canadians spend about 11 hours a day looking at a screen. Extended computer or digital device use can lead to a number of eye and vision problems, headaches, back pain, and sleep issues. Learn more about giving your eyes the break they need.
Podcast runs 5:38 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
An updated online course is now available on hazard and risk assessment.
Hazard and Risk: Identify, Assess, Control and Evaluate
Identifying hazards at your workplace makes you better prepared to control or eliminate them and prevent incidents, injuries, property damage and downtime. After all, you can't address issues you don't know about. This course explores the ongoing cycle of identifying hazards, assessing risk, controlling hazards, and evaluating controls.
There is still time to register and join us at The Changing World of Work Forum, taking place September 26-27 in Halifax.
This national event promises two days of discussions and discovery with presentations on topics that are shaping the future of work, an innovation showcase, and opportunities to connect with leaders and change makers from across Canada.
There is no other health and safety event like this in the country.
Registration closes at 11:59 pm EDT on Wednesday, September 20.
There are a few spots left – Register Now.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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