As a consultant I always look for a knowledge or skill to set myself apart from the pack and secure work where others can’t. That’s why I have been building up my capabilities to help organizations address EHS issues for workers who are pregnant, may be pregnant, or are breastfeeding. You may also want to beef up your skills in this area to make yourself more valuable to your current employer or more marketable in your next job. Here are a dozen reasons why this is a good idea.
- Do it for the kids. With all the talk about sustainability, no sustainable issue should be more important than having the next generation of children to be born healthy and stay healthy. The following will expand upon this concept.
- Workplace demographics. Women are now the majority of U.S. workers. As America shifts from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge and service economy, future growth jobs favor women workers over men. According to employment projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women will dominate 13 of the 15 fastest growing jobs during the next decade.
- Cycle-of-life. About 8 of every 10 women will become pregnant sometime during their working lifetime.
- Children demographics. Approximately 55 percent of all children born in the U.S. today are born to a mom who worked while pregnant. Births in the U.S. hit an all-time high in 2007.
- ISO 26000. ISO 26000:2010 Guidance on social responsibility (final standard published on October 28, 2010) includes recommendations for organizations to address safety and health issues for workers who are pregnant, may be pregnant or are breastfeeding. The standard also includes recommendations for organizations to address maternity protection (e.g. administrative issues such as a pregnancy leave) and product safety and environmental health protection for women who may be pregnant. Big things are expected from the standard, which was approved by 93 percent or 66 of the countries who are voting members of ISO. Surveys during the development of the standard found that about 88 percent of multinationals, 77 percent of major national companies, 45 percent of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and 45 percent of public organizations will apply its guidance.
- GHS. The United Nations Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is underway in most industrialized nations now and may be incorporated into law in the U.S. through an OSHA hazard communication final rule as early as the first quarter 2011. Within GHS are new hazard statements such as “H360: May damage fertility or the unborn child” and “H362: May cause harm to breast-fed children.”
- Chemical reform. Chemical reform in Europe (i.e. REACH) is spreading globally. TSCA reform is wanted by U.S. industry. More than a dozen U.S. states have passed chemical reform law. A hallmark of all chemical reform is the identification of “chemicals of concern,” which always include chemicals that may harm reproductive or developmental health.
- Expanded research. The $6 billion National Children’s Study, the largest study ever of its kind in the U.S., is now in the preliminary study and recruitment stage. The National Children’s Study will examine the effects of the environment on 100,000 U.S. children beginning in pregnancy. Studies such as this will generate a growing interest in the effects that workplace exposures may have on children’s health.
- Sick Generation. Evidence is mounting that children born in the U.S. today may be the first generation of children to be less healthy than their parents. A report in the February 2010 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that the rate of chronic disease among U.S. children, including the consequences of low birth weight and prematurity, has doubled in the last two decades.
- Follow the money. Costs related to chronic disease among children are enormous. The Institute of Medicine estimates that preterm births cost the U.S. $26 billion each year in medical care and lost productivity. A report in the April 2010 Journal of Pediatrics reports that $13 billion in annual savings could be realized if 90 percent of mothers breastfeed their newborn for six months. Where the money is, laws will follow. Healthcare reform law in 2009 includes requirements for all employers to make provisions for employees who want to express breast milk at work. Most laws being proposed on children’s health include a component of health promotion that often includes an environmental health and safety risk assessment during pregnancy.
- Tort liability. Claims for workplace prenatal injuries are allowable for viable or newborn children in all 50 states. Prenatal injuries are not covered by workers’ compensation insurance and tort claims for prenatal injuries have reached $100 million for one child. Growing research and technology improvements are crumbling the defense wall of causation. As some workplace conditions and exposures become a probable cause for a workplace prenatal injury, more tort claims will be filed. Employers can beat tort claims of this sort, but beating the claim will require evidence that the employer conducted due diligence to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and communicate (note that control may not be required) risks that may cause a prenatal injury.
- Gap in coverage. Within the U.S. there is a gap in covering the unborn child of pregnant workers. Public health and medical personnel workers get close but rarely intrude into the workplace. Workplace EHS pros focus on healthy working adults toward OSHA compliance and rarely consider the public health of an unborn child. Trade and professional organizations such as AIHA and ASSE have yet to promote this skill set among their members. Credentials such as the CIH, CSP and CHMM pay scant attention to developmental, i.e. unborn child health and safety concerns. And workplace safety and health management systems such as OSHAS 18001, ANSI Z10, and ILO-OSH 2001 miss the mark, too.
A growing number of EHS pros have bought into this new skill set. We are beginning to call ourselves “maternity health protectors” and “maternity protection risk assessors,” titles derived from the International Labour Organization’s Maternity Protection conventions.
A beta website helps funnel our interests. Initially we are self-declaring competency in maternity health protection because no existing organizations or credentials meet our needs. As a measure of competency, we have developed a 50-question quiz that anyone interested may take at www.imaginemediaco.com/mpra/quiz/. The quiz has no passing score and answers are found at the end. Take the quiz and test your knowledge.