With #womensmarch and #metoo bookending 2017, many U.S. employers are likely to establish new policies and procedures in 2018 to better manage workplace sexism.  How does this practice impact occupational health and safety? Particularly, how do these issues impact your organization’s choice to implement ISO 45001, OHS Management Systems?

Managing sexism requires a systems approach as illustrated in Figure 1. Like spokes on a wheel, tighten just one program in Figure 1, such as Harassment and Hostile Work Environments, and the wheel wobbles. All program areas must be adjusted equally to achieve a smooth ride.

The spoke on the lower right has a considerable OHS component. The OHS practices for pregnancy, however, are generally not an OSHA compliance issue. Beyond OSHA, however, OHS practices during pregnancy are addressed through recommendations from organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and regulated through expanding U.S. state and local laws.

State laws

You should be aware that U.S. state laws and other regulations governing workplace pregnancy accommodation reached a tipping point in 2016 — more workers are now covered than not. For a summary of all U.S. state laws (most developed since 2013) see National Women’s Law Center “Pregnancy Accommodation in the States.”1

First requirement

The first requirement in ISO 45001 is Context of the organization: “The organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and that affect its ability to achieve the intended outcome(s) of its OH&S management system.” Workplace pregnancy qualifies as an external and internal issue that U.S. organizations must consider if they adopt 45001.

The British Standard OHSAS 18001 (withdrawn with final 45001 due in March, 2018) addressed OHS context for pregnant workers. The United Kingdom, for example, has national law, under the European Commission’s 1992 Pregnant Workers Directive, that requires employers to conduct risk assessments for pregnant and breastfeeding workers.2 Likewise, ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health Management System (ILO-OSH 2001) incorporates “Maternity Protection” into its guidelines.3

If your organization seeks to implement an OHS management system but does not wish to distinguish pregnant workers from other workers (equal treatment logic), then conformance with American National Standard ANSI/ASSE Z10-2012 (R2017) OHS Management Systems is the preferable choice. ANSI Z10 will coexist with ISO 45001.

Risk assessment

All modern OHS management systems, particularly ISO 45001, stress hazard and risk assessment.

 Figure 2 is an OHS hazard and risk assessment flow chart modified for U.S. pregnant workers.  Properly applied, ISO 45001 will require evidence that each box, generally adhering to hierarchy of controls, was addressed by the employer. Note: within Figure 2 the employer performs hazard and risk assessment first; then informs the worker of any significant risk.  Auditors may assess if the organization’s hazard and risk assessment was adequate for the workplace exposures.

Customer requirement

Similar to ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environmental management), there is the strong likelihood that certification to ISO 45001 may become a customer requirement. Customers, especially today, need a measure for global consistency for various management practices. 

For various reasons, the U.S. has been slow to adopt strategies in Figure 2. The term “unborn child” made its way into OSHA HazCom requirements with little fanfare when the U.S. adopted the UN’s GHS in 2012. OSHA, however, has no risk assessment requirements for non-employees. Figure 2 calls out the term. Will adoption of ISO 45001 force a “voluntary” OHS requirement for pregnant workers and the worker’s future child?


The final ISO 45001 is expected to be accompanied by fanfare and an eagerness by many organizations to pursue 45001 certifications. Prior to committing to 45001, however, OHS pros should have a “context” discussion with senior managers of the organization on proactive hazard and risk assessments for pregnant workers and their future children. 

Like sexism itself, not discussing the problem only makes it worse. Practice your context-thinking and discuss the topic (particularly if your state shows up in reference 1. See ISHN’s “Tackling taboo topics: Pregnant worker and unborn child.”4


  1. https://nwlc.org/resources/pregnancy-accommodations-states/
  2. http://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/law.htm
  3. http://mprp.itcilo.org/allegati/en/m8.pdf
  4. https://www.ishn.com/articles/99738-tackling-taboo-topics-pregnant-worker-unborn-child