Health and Safety and Maternity

All about Health and Safety and Maternity in South Africa, Health and Safety and Maternity Laws for Pregnant and Breast-feeding Women, Health and Safety and Maternity and Work on Mywage South Africa

If I am pregnant, is my health and safety protected in the workplace?

Yes. There is a code which provides a guide for employers and employees about the protection of the health of women against potential hazards in their work environment during pregnancy, after the birth of a child and while breast-feeding.
This is called The Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child, and it falls under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA).

Does the code apply to every workplace?

Yes. But workplaces are different, depending upon the type of business and sector they are engaged in, and the physical, chemical and biological hazards which employees may be exposed to. So the norms in the code are general, and may be adjusted due to circumstances (eg amount of employees, type of work etc).

Is my health and safety backed up by the Constitution?

Yes. Firstly, no person may be discriminated against or dismissed on account of pregnancy. Secondly, employers must provide and maintain a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees. This includes risks to the reproductive health of employees.

If I am pregnant or breast-feeding, can my employer force me to do work that is dangerous?

No. Employers are not allowed to require or permit a pregnant or breast-feeding employee to perform work that is hazardous to her health or the health of her child. This means that employers who employ women of childbearing age must assess and control workplace risks. These risks – and protective and preventive measures – should be regularly reviewed.

If I am pregnant or breast-feeding, can I move to a different position in my workplace that is less hazardous to my health?

Yes. Where appropriate, employers should maintain a list of employment positions not involving risk to which pregnant or breast-feeding employees could be transferred.

An employer must offer suitable alternative employment to an employee during pregnancy if her work poses a danger to her health or safety or that of her child, or if the employee is engaged in night work (between 6am and 6pm) unless it is not practicable to do so. Alternative employment must be on terms that are no less favourable than the employee's ordinary terms and conditions of employment.

Must I tell my employer about my pregnancy?

Yes. This is to your advantage, to ensure that the employer is able to identify and assess risks and take appropriate preventive measures.

What will happen after I tell my employer I am pregnant?

Your situation in the workplace should be evaluated. The evaluation should include:

  • An examination of your physical condition by a qualified medical professional
  • An examination of your job
  • An examination of workplace practices and potential workplace exposures that may affect you.

If the evaluation reveals that there is a risk to your health or safety, the employer must:

  • Inform you of the risk
  • After consultation with you, determine what steps should be taken to prevent exposure by adjusting your working conditions.

What type of hazards should I be aware of in the workplace?

  • Physical hazards (including exposure to noise and work in extreme environments)
  • Ergonomic hazards (including heavy physical work, repetitive work, and standing for long periods)
  • Chemical hazards (contact with harmful chemical substances may cause infertility and foetal abnormalities. Some chemicals can be passed to a baby during breast-feeding and could possibly damage the health and development of the child)
  • Biological hazards (bacteria and viruses can affect the unborn child if the mother is infected during pregnancy. They may also be transferred through breast-feeding).

What physical effects of pregnancy may affect me in the workplace?

  • Morning sickness – which may mean you are unable to perform early shift work. Exposure to nauseating smells may also aggravate morning sickness.
  • Backache and varicose veins – these can result from work involving prolonged standing or sitting. Backache may also result from work involving manual handling.
  • More frequent visits to the toilet – this will mean you must have reasonable access to toilet facilities (and consideration of your position if it is tricky to leave the work you perform).
  • Changes to size and discomfort – this may require changes of protective clothing, changes to work in confined spaces and changes to work where manual handling is involved.
  • Balance – this may be affected, making work on slippery or wet surfaces difficult.
  • Tiredness associated with pregnancy – this may affect your ability to work overtime and to perform evening work. Your employer may have to consider granting rest periods.

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Find out more about Health, Safety and Breast-feeding in the Workplace.