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Health and Safety in pregnancy, COSHH

(9 Posts)
SpecialStains Fri 18-Mar-16 12:28:56

Was wondering if anyone with more knowledge could help me out. If you work with hazardous chemicals (carcinogens, teartogens, pathogens) and you have a risk assessment that raises these, can an employer forcibly stop you from continuing to work with them (even if wearing full ppe, fumes hoods etc) if you want to continue working with them? At what point does the right of a pregnant woman to not be discriminated against (ie not being allowed to do the same jobs) become less important than an employers duty to protect?

I just ask because I consider the risks to be minimal as long as I am following protocol and doing everything correctly. If anything was that bad/harmful, I wouldn't be playing with it in the first place. With extra caution, I want to continue as normal, but the health and safety officer thinks otherwise.

Surely it's my decision at the end of the day? (As a disclaimer, I'm generally a very anxious, risk adverse person, but I've considered this and only want to make a few small adjustments).

Can anyone better informed please advise me? Thanks. smile

DesertOrDessert Fri 18-Mar-16 17:01:27

That's a really tough one.
If, worst case, there was a leak or breach of material, how potentially risky is it to your baby?
What do you mean by "full" ppe? And what are the entry methods for the chemicals you are using? And what exposure levels?
I wouldn't want to risk the time hood extraction in my old building. It had a habbit of diverting flow if someone earlier in the extraction system switched on extra hoods incompetent designer
Work are doing things in your best interest. Are 6 months of rescheduled work going to be that hard (I'm guessing your at least 4 week pregnant, and leaving around 36 weeks!!)?
If we went against the risk assessment (just general ones) it could potentially be disaplinary, depending on extent. I'm not sure I'd go against it, but there is lots of further info I would need to make an informed decision. You have that info.

flowery Fri 18-Mar-16 18:01:19

No it isn't your decision really. You can and should express a preference, but if your health and safety officer considers it to be an unacceptable risk to you and your baby, and your employer (sensibly) chooses to accept that recommendation, you don't have the right to overrule it, and no it isn't discrimination. (Unless you believe the H&S officer is deliberately saying this for the purposes of removing you from the job for another, discriminatory, reason!)

Make your preferences known by all means, but if something awful happens, and it becomes clear that your employer had a recommendation from a H&S officer to remove you, but ignored that recommendation because you wanted them to, they certainly wouldn't be off the hook in terms of liability.

They would not be sensible to ignore a recommendation regarding a risk to a pregnant woman.

SpecialStains Fri 18-Mar-16 20:20:24

Ok. Thanks for the responses. Obviously not what I want to hear flowery, but thanks for the reply. I honestly think the h&s guy is being very overzealous, and that the risks to me are very low. Very frustrating having to accept other people making choices on my behalf. I'm pregnant, - I haven't lost the capacity to make decisions.

desert the main risk is handling unfixed, unscreened human tissue (cancer related not anything contagious). H&S has said a blanket no, I think this is unreasonable as I'd be wearing gloves, goggles, lab coat, downdraft bench and have experience in doing the techniques. They have also said no to my using certain chemicals. I agreed with not dealing with the nasty powdered chemicals, but honestly done see the problem if they are in liquid form in a fume hood.

I am a part time self funded research student, so any time I can't do benchwork affects my postgraduate qualification, if this makes any difference. I do not want to take time out - I enjoy what I do.

Funny thing is, I work part time in a lab dealing with human tissue and chemicals like formalin, and they've had no problems with me continuing to work with category 3 pathogens etc. The risks to me don't change because I'm pregnant, just the consequences.

Anyway, thanks again for the advice.

flowery Sat 19-Mar-16 09:36:40

"Very frustrating having to accept other people making choices on my behalf. I'm pregnant, - I haven't lost the capacity to make decisions."

View it as them making decisions on their own behalf if that helps. They really would be completely bonkers to ignore a H&S recommendation in these circumstances. If anything happened they'd be in massive trouble, and their insurance probably wouldn't pay out either. Commercially, it would be a very very stupid decision. Not doing a risk assessment could get them in trouble. But doing one and ignoring it? No chance would I advise a client of mine to do that.

WhoKnowsWhereTheTimeG0es Sat 19-Mar-16 09:43:15

I do risk assessments for pregnant women in similar circumstances. I would expect safety officer/management decision to be final. I know it's frustrating, I went through two pregnancies with similar restrictions but it really is a case of better safe than sorry.

SueTrinder Sat 19-Mar-16 20:11:17

unfixed, unscreened human tissue (cancer related not anything contagious)

Are these samples from patients? So unscreened primary cells? Presumably you should be handling these in a class II cabinet or are you just fixing the samples rather than culturing them? Are you using needles while working with this material, i.e. is there a risk of puncture of your gloves/skin which means you potentially could be infected with a BBV (because just because the patient is being treated for cancer doesn't mean they don't have anything infectious)? If not using needles then my employer would say risk is acceptable in a class II cabinet but I don't know about a downdraft bench, it's much more open and the impact of the risk (contamination with a BBV) is quite serious even if the risk is small.

I'm surprised they are OK about the formalin though, that was a complete no-no when I was pregnant with DD1. It's a teratogen and a carcinogen.

I do agree with you about liquids vs powdery solids as a general principal, the risk should go down BUT depending on the chemicals they might still be too dangerous. Are you talking about stains for your tissue samples? In which case we'd still assess the risk as being high since the whole point of using them is they can get into mammalian cells and concentrate in certain organelles. Not good for anyone but particularly for a pregnant woman.

Anything else? Do you use methanol? We prevent people handling it when pregnant. Also check all your reagents for running gels, there are some teratogens in the Invitrogen ready-made reagents but we assess them as safe but allow people to refuse to use them if they are uncomfortable. If you are making reagents from scratch the risks could be much higher.

IceMaiden73 Sun 20-Mar-16 08:02:32

Imagine if they ignored the health and safety recommendations and then something happens to you or your baby as a result. They wouldn't be issued for a start.

It's not your risk to take, it's theirs. It's their premises, their equipment and their arses in the line if something goes wrong

MrAliBongo Mon 21-Mar-16 08:24:12

Great advice from flowery. Bear in mind that our employers make decisions for all of us, all the time. Employees have responsibility for their own H&S, but it's not up to them to decide what that looks like. Also bear in mind that being treated differently to your colleagues is not discriminatory if there's a justifiable reason for it.

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