Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, employers are required to assess and address the Health and Safety risks to new and expectant mothers where they employ women of child-bearing age.

The practice must carry out a general ‘risk assessment’ of any processes, working conditions or agents which could jeopardise the health or safety of their employee, or that of their baby; and a further individual ‘risk assessment’ must be carried out once the employee has given written notice that:

   she is pregnant

   has given birth within the last six months

   is breastfeeding

If a significant risk is found, an employer must do all that is reasonable to remove it – or prevent exposure to it – and must give information to its employee on the risk and what action has been taken. If the risk remains, the employer must temporarily alter the employee’s working conditions or hours of work, if this is reasonable, and if this avoids the risk.

If the risk cannot be avoided, the employer is legally obliged to offer her suitable alternative work (on terms and conditions which are not substantially less favourable than her original job).

If there is no suitable alternative work available, the employer must suspend her on full pay (i.e. give her paid leave) for as long as is necessary to avoid the risk.

Common risks

These risks are diverse and will include:

   shocks, vibration or movement

   handling of loads entailing risks over and above those regulated by the Manual Handling Regulations


   physical, biological and chemical agents (which may also be the subject of other health and safety regulations)

   extremes of heat or cold

   movements and postures


   mental and physical fatigue and other physical burdens.

Both the employer and the employee should sign the completed Risk Assessment. The Risk Assessment should be updated as the pregnancy progresses.

Chemicals and drugs

Pregnant vet nurses must avoid:




   the dark room.

Working regulations on inhalation gases and X-ray should be available as part of the Health and Safety mandate. Radiation badges should be looked after and not removed from the workplace. Employers should assume that female vet nurses could be pregnant and not just take steps when they know they are pregnant.

Radiation is covered by specific legislation; and no-one is allowed in the controlled area when the X-ray machine is being used. Once the X-ray machine is off, then pregnant vet nurses can go into the area.

When an animal is being anaesthetised and ‘tubed’, no cracks should be present in the pipework. Regular checks on equipment should be monitored.

During the recovery phase, once the animal coughs this could be a sign that there is anaesthetic in the air.

Good anaesthetic protocol includes:

   active scavenging

   cuff tubes

   use of a fan to speed up movement of air

   regular checking of tubes and regular changing of ‘fluorosorbers’.

Ask the manufacturer for advice on waste when the canister is full. The vet nurse should be able to change these.

With regards to handling medical substances:

   there should be no handling of live vaccines and no handling of steroid preparations

   all medication should be dispensed wearing protective gloves.

Pregnant vet nurses should not be handling cat faeces. 

Members of the BVNA can contact the IRS Helpline for free advice and support. Please call 01822 870270 or e-mail nicky@hrsupportconsultancy.co.uk


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 28 • July 2013 • Veterinary Nursing Journal