REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE
What Employers Should Know
Men, women, and their families can be affected by potential reproductive hazards in their workplace. Your employees are your company’s most valuable assets. Keep them, and their families, safe by taking steps to protect them from reproductive hazards.
Health and safety is good for your bottom line
- Healthy employees are more productive than sick workers.
- Showing your employees that you care about their health and safety and the health of their families can improve morale and employee retention.
- Improving safety and health at your workplace can also save your company money. Research shows that successful safety and health systems reduce the costs of injury and illness, and have a high return on investment.
Reproductive hazards matter all the time, for both men and women
- Men’s sexual function, sperm, or semen can be affected by some workplace hazards. Some chemicals can concentrate in semen.
- Women’s fertility and menstrual function can be affected by some workplace hazards. When a pregnant or breastfeeding worker is exposed to hazards, her baby might be exposed too.
- Both men and women can carry chemicals home on the skin, hair, clothes, and shoes. Some of these chemicals can harm the health of children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and other people in their households.
- When a pregnant or breastfeeding worker is exposed to hazards, her baby might be exposed too.
- Many chemicals in the workplace have not been tested to see if they can cause reproductive problems.
- Laws for workplace safety and health do not always protect men’s and women’s reproductive health and the health of their families.
Pregnant and breastfeeding workers
Although most employees are able to safely perform their jobs throughout pregnancy, pregnancy can sometimes affect worker safety. Current occupational exposure limits were set based on studies performed in non-pregnant adults, so they might not protect a pregnant woman or her unborn baby. For example:
- Pregnant women absorb some chemicals faster than non-pregnant women, such as some metals.
- As her body changes, a pregnant worker may find that personal protective equipment (like lab coats or some types of respirators) no longer fits correctly.
- Changes in a pregnant worker’s immune system, lung capacity, and even ligaments can alter her risk for injury or illness due to some workplace hazards.
- Some chemical exposures might be riskier for an unborn baby than its mother, due to its rapid development and smaller relative size. For most chemicals, we don’t have good information on what levels of exposure might harm an unborn baby.
- If an employee is breastfeeding, think about what exposures can get into her breast milk. Encourage your employee to talk to her doctor about her workplace exposures. Keep in mind that hazards can be different for breastfeeding women and pregnant women.
How you can keep your employees healthy and safe
Identify hazards in your workplace
Some workplace hazards are obvious, like machinery that can cause injury or chemicals that can be poisonous. When identifying hazards in your workplace, remember to include things like stress, working long hours, working night shifts, standing or sitting for long periods of time, and noise. Once you have identified the hazards in your workplace, you can start thinking of ways to make your workplace safer.
Follow health and safety requirements
As an employer, you are required to provide a safe workplace for your employees. This means that you check your workplace to make sure there are no serious hazards, you train your employees in safe work practices, and you provide the equipment they need to do their job and stay safe.
Learn more about your responsibilities as an employerExternal.
Create a smoke-free workplace
Secondhand smoke can cause cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Secondhand smoke also can harm unborn babies if pregnant women regularly breathe it. Even if your city is not covered by a smoke-free law, you can create your own workplace smoke-free policy to protect the health of your employees.
Learn how to create a smoke-free workplaceExternal.
Make a plan for pregnant and breastfeeding workers
Some workplace exposures can be more dangerous for pregnant or breastfeeding workers than for other workers. Think about what jobs in your company could be hazardous for your pregnant workers, and share this information with employees. Offer them the option to temporarily transfer into safer jobs while they are pregnant or breastfeeding. If only one part of a pregnant worker’s job is hazardous, offer to have another worker take over that specific task temporarily.
Learn more about work and breastfeeding.
Request a health hazard evaluation
If you want to make your workplace safer but don’t know where to start, NIOSH can help. A Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) is a free service from NIOSH that will give you advice about what kinds of health hazards might be in your workplace and what steps you can take to make your workplace safer. NIOSH does not give fines if they find a hazard. Instead, they will help you fix the problems they find.
Learn more about Health Hazard Evaluation.
- Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer SolutionsExternal. Office on Women’s Health.
- Occupational Exposures and Reproductive HealthExternal: Grajewski B, Coble J, Frazier L, McDiarmid M. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol 2005;74:157-163.