For instance, when a woman is pregnant, her balance, reach distance and lifting capability changes. Additionally, hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy affect ligaments and joints, which can cause postural problems, backache and impairment of dexterity, agility, coordination and balance. Pregnant women may be more affected by some ergonomic hazards such as awkward postures, heavy lifting, repetitive forces and limited rest periods. As a result, pre-term delivery, low birth weight, spontaneous abortion and stillbirth can occur.
As a pregnant woman's size increases, her reach distance is affected, causing additional stretching, which can affect the arms, shoulders and lower back. This can make lifting tasks particularly hazardous, resulting not only in greater back pain, but having to carry the load farther from the body.
"Heavy lifting tasks can also cause the flow of blood in the body to be altered, which can affect the fetus," ASSE member and Practice Specialty Administrator Linda Tapp said in her report, titled "Maintaining the Safety and Health of a Diverse Workforce."
Excessive standing during pregnancy also can cause concern, Tapp said. Standing for long periods of time can cause lower back pain and prolonged standing can cause serious risk. For example, standing more than 36 hours a week or more than 10 hours a day can lead to a variety of problems, Tapp noted.
Occupational safety, health and environmental professionals can help employers implement good workplace design principles and programs to help make the workplace safer. Although there is no one-size-fits-all-solution, there are ways to increase safety for all and for expectant working mothers that include:
- Using material handling equipment whenever possible and practical, as it reduces the need to lift, lower, push, pull or carry heavy materials;
- Reducing the weight of objects that must be handled not only make the task easier for older and women workers but make the job safer for everyone;
- Ensuring good housekeeping practices such as keeping floor surfaces dry and free of debris and other clutter lowers the risk of handling materials;
- Safety/ergonomics training on material handling techniques that covers body mechanics and preferred postures should be ongoing; and
- Providing a workplace with features that can be adjusted to accommodate the physical needs of all workers.