MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: Your role in protecting working women

November 5, 2009
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The vast majority of working women want maternity protection.

EHS pros play an important role in the health protection aspects of maternity protection. Health protection addresses risks that may impact a worker that may be pregnant, is pregnant, or is breastfeeding.

Here are six key steps that should be followed to help you better understand how maternity protection may impact your job:
  1. Visit the links following in this article to further understand maternity protection.Particularly, review the language in the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 and Recommendation No. 191.
  2. If any segment of your company’s workforce belongs to the AFL-CIO or other unions that may seek maternity protection within upcoming contracts, brief management how maternity protection health protections may impact operations.
  3. Check with your company’s HR department to see what policies and procedures address aspects of maternity protection. Update procedures, as necessary, to reflect any needed occupational safety and health involvement.
  4. Thoroughly review OSHA’s proposed rule to update the hazard communication standard. Determine the impact the rule may have on your operations if needed to classify germ cell mutagens and reproductive toxicants at 0.1%. Do you already have a list of these chemicals or will a new inventory have to be created? Brief management on your findings.
  5. Determine if your state has enacted any Rules to protect people who are pregnant from environmental exposures. Minnesota, for example, has established airborne exposure limits (public health criteria) for people who may be pregnant.
  6. Apply the risk management strategies within ISO (FDIS) 31000 to determine what risks (and opportunities) and treatment options your organization faces with maternity protection. This includes trend analysis for current and projected workplace demographics, community and customer relationships, and potential state or federal legislation on maternity protection.

Driving forces

The growth of women in the global workforce has stirred renewed interest in maternity protection. For example, women are expected to be the majority of the U.S. workforce by the end of 2009. Women currently comprise about 40 percent of all paid workers worldwide.
  • In March 2007, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) launched a maternity protection campaign ( Statement_8_march_EN.pdf.) The ITUC has nearly 170 million members in 312 affiliated organizations and 157 countries and territories.
  • In January 2009, the European Trade Union Confederation, which represents over 200 unions throughout the EU, issued their position statement on improvement of EU’s Pregnant Workers Directive; see ( pregnant_workers_directive__7__EN.pdf.) EU’s pregnant workers directive supports many of ILO’s maternity protection provisions.
  • In March 2009, the AFL-CIO, which represents over 11 million U.S. workers, issued its “Charter Rights of Working Women” ( aboutus/thisistheaflcio/ecouncil/ec03052009n.cfm.) These charter rights include maternity protection.
  • In addition to organized labor, other organizations have ongoing maternity protection campaigns. The one-million- member MomsRising organization (www.momsrising. org) in the U.S. is one example. MomsRising seeks better maternity leave in state and federal legislation.
  • OSHA’s September 30, 2009, proposed rule ( to update the hazard communication standard addresses the chemical exposure aspect of maternity protection. Health protections, however, address more than just ionizing radiation and chemical exposure. Other risks to consider include: ergonomics, vibration, noise, non-ionizing radiation, extremes of cold or heat, and exposure to some biological agents. EU guidelines on how to conduct a risk assessment (for all risk categories) for workers who may be pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding is found at (
  • Improvement in pregnancy and childbirth is a national priority area for improvement within the U.S. health care system (see http://www.childbirthconnection. org/article.asp?ck=10575). Childbirth is the leading reason for hospitalization and charges for birthing women and newborns far exceed charges for any other condition. Annually, private insurers and employers pay nearly $40 billion of these charges. Improvements in maternity protection will drive down the costs of maternity care.
  • Women are the majority of registered voters in the U.S. and on a global and collective scale they represent a growth market that is twice as big as China and India combined.1 Knowing what women want is now critical for success in politics and business. ILO Maternity Protection Database at (http://www. can be visited to see legislative health protections that various countries have established for workers who may be pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
  • <./ul>

    See: The Female Economy, pp. 47-53, Harvard Business Review; September 2009. Also see, Women Want More: How to capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market (HarperCollins, 2009).

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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