Organisations representing hundreds of thousands of pregnant employees some of which are healthcare workers have expressed concern at the withdrawal without any warning of COVID-19 guidance by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for employers on how to protect pregnant employees.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), UNISON, the TUC, Maternity Action and Unite the Union and The Society of Radiographers (SoR) all of whom also provide guidance to women during pregnancy or support women at work, say that the removal of the DHSC guidance for employers undermines the legal regulations and requirements which should be in place to manage the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace for expectant mothers. This they say could leave pregnant employees exposed to harm from Covid-19 infection in the workplace. 

In a joint letter sent to the DHSC and HSE urging them to republish the guidance – the RCM, The TUC, UNISON Maternity Action, Unite and The Society of Radiographers (SoR) say clear, accessible guidance must be available for all UK employers to ensure compliance with their legal duty to protect the health and safety of pregnant employees in the workplace.

Commenting, RCM’s Chief Executive Gill Walton said;

We know from the evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. Previous guidance, including from the Government, has highlighted the vulnerability of pregnant women, so to withdraw this guidance, unilaterally, could put women at risk. Effective risk assessment in the workplace is essential to keep women safe during pregnancy. Employers have a duty to follow guidance, that is why we are asking to Department of Health and Social Care to republish this advice immediately.”

The RCM say it will continue to provide up to date guidance for its members and pregnant women on how to protect themselves in the workplace during COVID-19.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Since the start of the pandemic pregnant women have been identified as at increased risk of severe illness from Covid. Withdrawing safety guidance for employers puts pregnant workers at risk. Employers need to be clear about the need to carry out individual risk assessments for pregnant workers – including considering the risks of Covid

Ministers must republish this advice immediately so employers can take action to keep their pregnant employees safe.”

UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea said: “The pandemic is far from over. Expectant mothers are among those most at risk from the virus. The government should be taking the lead and ensuring employers have access to the most up-to-date guidance, not taking it away.

By scrapping the guidance, ministers are washing their hands of the responsibility of keeping staff safe. They’re also sending a worrying message to employers that meeting their legal safety duty is a matter of choice.”

Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action said:

Regrettably, the health and safety of pregnant women has been overlooked time and time again during the pandemic. At Maternity Action, we’re still regularly hearing from women who are confused and worried about how to keep themselves safe in the workplace.

They’re right to be worried – the figures show that the pandemic is by no means over, and pregnant women remain a high-risk group. In addition, although vaccination rates for pregnant women have gone up, they still lag significantly behind many other groups.

We join the call for the DSHE and the Health and Safety Executive to reissue clear guidance for women and their employers to help mitigate the risks of Covid 19.”

Diana Holland Assistant General Secretary from Unite the Union said: “Pregnant workers need support and protection, not uncertainty and anxiety. Removing this essential piece of guidance is nothing short of reckless. We demand re-instatement of the guidance, which directs employers to their legal responsibility to assess risks to pregnant women and provide protective measures to keep them healthy and safe in this pandemic and beyond.

We strongly oppose the government withdrawal of all workplace guidance connected to this pandemic and call for full involvement of trade unions and respect for pregnant workers’ health in our workplaces.”

Dean Rogers, Director of Industrial Strategy and Member Relations at the Society of Radiographers (SoR) said: “With covid rates in the UK still high it is imperative that pregnant employee’s health and safety is protected. Withdrawing protections at this time is premature and whilst Society of Radiographers representatives continue to make a huge difference in their workplaces, the Department of Health and Social Care should republish its advice immediately to support those pregnant employees and to provide clarity for employers on the protections that should be put in place.”

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