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Occupational safety for pregnant women: Staying safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Navigating the demands of working life during pregnancy and the first months of maternity can be challenging. That's why the Maternity Protection Act provides a firm framework specifically designed to ensure the protection and health of pregnant and breastfeeding employees and their children. In particular, the Act aims to prevent discrimination in the workplace while protecting the health of both mother and child.

Among other things, the legal framework defines clear rest periods for expectant and new mothers: employment is prohibited six weeks before and eight weeks after giving birth. But the Maternity Protection Act offers even more: it ensures comprehensive health protection during the entire pregnancy, after the birth and during the breastfeeding period. The aim is for mothers to be able to continue their professional activities without interruption or restrictions.

 

In this article, we highlight the key elements and benefits of maternity protection. We show how targeted protective measures can be used to ensure a safe and confident pregnancy and breastfeeding period in the working environment without having to compromise on the health and well-being of the child.

 

What is maternity protection?

Maternity protection is a very special safety net that is specifically designed for women who are at work during their pregnancy or breastfeeding period. This protection programme aims to ensure the health and well-being of mother and child by minimising both physical and psychological stress in the workplace. In addition, maternity protection not only guarantees health and safety in the workplace, but also includes special protection against dismissal. This means that you are protected from (unlawful) dismissal during your pregnancy and for a certain period afterwards.

As mentioned above, maternity protection also includes a ban on employment for the weeks immediately before and after the birth to ensure the necessary time and rest for recovery and caring for the child. During this period, there is no need to worry about your income, as maternity leave also ensures that your salary remains secure. This financial security allows you to concentrate fully on what is most important.

But what if I stray from the straight and narrow?

So, there I was, back on my two feet after fate had briefly sent me to Berlin's icy dance floor. Just when I thought I had figured out all the pitfalls of my daily commute, a new question fluttered into my head: what happens if I don't take the direct route to work? The DGUV has clear rules for this.

Not every reason for a diversion is treated equally. A spontaneous trip to the lake just because the sun is beckoning will bring your insurance cover to a halt. But don't panic: As soon as you're back on your actual route to work or home, your cover will kick in again. The important thing here is: interruptions should not exceed two hours and a clear head is required during this time - alcohol and drugs are taboo.

Regardless of whether your route is straight or full of bends, the rules are on your side, provided you stick to them. This knowledge of the details of your insurance cover enables you to concentrate fully on your safety and health.

 

Insurance cover in the home office

An interesting detail that is becoming increasingly relevant in the current working world: Since the coronavirus pandemic, your insurance cover also extends to your home office. This means that even the journeys you make within your own four walls - be it to the printer or to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee - are covered by statutory accident insurance. 

This aspect is often underestimated or even overlooked, although it plays an important role for many of us. Especially in times when working from home has become the new normal for many, it is important to be aware of this extension of insurance cover. 

 

But beware: No protection without an agreement!

For your accident insurance cover when working from home, a clear agreement between you and your employer is required, ideally in writing, e.g. as an addendum to your employment contract. This also applies to occasional working from home or while travelling. In short, clear agreements ensure insurance cover in the home office and when working remotely.

 

Step-by-step: How do I report a work or commuting accident?

Reporting a work or commuting accident is crucial to protect your rights and claims. Here is a simple guide:

  • Immediate notification to the employer: Inform your employer about the accident as soon as possible. This is the first and most important step to ensure that the incident is officially recorded.
  • Documentation of the course of the accident: Record what happened, including the time, place and possible witnesses. This information is important for the subsequent processing of your case.
  • Medical treatment: See a doctor, especially if you have suffered injuries. The doctors should know that it is a work or commuting accident, as this is relevant for the settlement of treatment costs.
  • Passing on the information to the employers' liability insurance association or accident insurance fund: Your employer is obliged to report the accident to the relevant employers' liability insurance association or accident insurance fund. Make sure that this report is made.
  • Retention of all documents: Keep all documents relating to the accident and treatment in a safe place. This includes medical reports, confirmations from the employer and any correspondence with the employers' liability insurance association or accident insurance fund.
Maternity protection is a fundamental pillar of occupational health and safety, specifically designed to protect the health of pregnant and breastfeeding women in the workplace. These protective measures serve the well-being of mother and child and ensure that no unacceptable risks have to be taken in the workplace during this vulnerable phase. Maternity protection includes, among other things
  • Protecting health in the workplace
  • Special protection against dismissal
  • Employment ban before and after the birth
  • Securing income during the employment ban

Who is protected by maternity leave?

Maternity protection in Germany is a comprehensive right to which all pregnant and breastfeeding employees are entitled, regardless of the type of employment relationship. This law, which is so important for expectant mothers, ensures that they are protected at work during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, regardless of whether they are pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • is worked part-time,
  • is undergoing vocational training,
  • marginal employment exists,
  • works as a domestic worker,
  • a necessary internship is completed for the training programme,
  • is engaged as a volunteer within the framework of the Youth Volunteer Service Act or the Federal Volunteer Service Act,
  • membership of a spiritual co-operative, deaconess or affiliation to a similar community, even during extracurricular training phases,
  • is working as a woman with a disability in a workshop for people with disabilities (WfbM),
  • German nationality or not. Maternity protection applies to all pregnant women who are employed in Germany. This also includes employees with a different nationality who work in Germany.

The Maternity Protection Act also offers protection during pregnancy and after childbirth in the case of fixed-term employment relationships, whether for trial purposes or as a replacement, as long as the employment relationship exists. Special regulations apply to female civil servants under "Maternity protection for female civil servants".

Exceptions to the Maternity Protection Act

There is no maternity protection if you:
  • is a housewife,
  • works exclusively on a self-employed basis and cannot be considered an employee-like person,
  • is a board member (i.e. in the management) of a company or managing director of a legal entity without also being predominantly active as an employee.

The scope of maternity protection is defined by the Maternity Protection Act (MuSchG) which regulates the protection of mothers at work, in training and at university.

Challenges in the implementation of maternity protection

Despite clear legal requirements, in practice it is often difficult to implement the Maternity Protection Act in companies. One Survey conducted by the German Trade Union Confederation in 2022, revealedthat many companies do not fully comply with the regulations for the protection of pregnant and breastfeeding women. Surprisingly, more than half of the women surveyed reported that there were no adequate maternity protection measures in place in their working environment. In addition, a similar proportion exceeded the permitted working hours, which clearly exceeds the statutory maximum limits during pregnancy.

Pregnancy notification: When is the right time?

Notifying the employer of a pregnancy is an important step in ensuring that comprehensive protection is in place during this special time at work. This is particularly relevant in the context of risk assessment for maternity protection.  Whilst it is always ultimately a personal decision as to when to share this message, there are some considerations that can help in the decision-making process.

Why early information makes sense

  • Early protectionAs soon as employers are informed about the pregnancy, statutory protective measures come into force. These include adjustments to working conditions to minimise health risks for mother and child.
  • Health and safety: In the first months of pregnancy, specific hazards in the workplace can pose an increased risk. Early notification enables employers to take appropriate precautions.
  • Planning security for employers: By informing your employer of your pregnancy at an early stage, you enable better personnel planning during your absence on maternity leave and, if necessary, parental leave.
  Despite the advantages of early notification, there may be reasons in favour of a later announcement. Perhaps you want to wait for the first critical weeks or have concerns about the reaction of your employer. It is important that every pregnant woman feels confident in her decision and chooses the right time for herself.

Risk assessment in maternity protection

Since the introduction of the Maternity Protection Act in 2018 and the guidelines on risk assessment in 2023 It is mandatory for employersto check the working environment for risks and adapt it accordingly. This serves to protect and ensure the safety of pregnant and breastfeeding employees in the workplace.

Two-stage risk assessment

The Maternity Protection Act stipulates that employers must carry out a risk assessment in Two levels have to carry out:

  1. Risk assessment regardless of the cause: Employers must check all workplaces and activities in the company to determine whether they could potentially pose a health risk to pregnant or breastfeeding employees. This review takes place regardless of whether a pregnancy or breastfeeding period is currently known.
  2. Occasion-related risk assessment: After a pregnancy or breastfeeding period has been reported, it is necessary to update the risk assessment and tailor it specifically to the employee concerned. The protective measures already defined must be reviewed and adapted if necessary.

 

Company doctors and safety experts can provide valuable support when carrying out a risk assessment. They help to correctly assess risks and implement effective protective measures.

Identification of potential risks

It is essential that the work of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers is organised in such a way that any irresponsible risks are excluded. Risks that require special attention include, but are not limited to

 

Physical strain:

  • Regular lifting of heavy objects
  • Extended phases of standing without interruption
  • Increased risk of slip and fall accidents
  • Exposure to shocks and vibrations
  • Fast pace of work, especially assembly line work

 

Contact with toxic substances:

  • Dealing with risky substances
  • Exposure to biological agents (microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites)
  • Contact with toxic chemicals
  • Exposure to ionising and non-ionising radiation

 

Employment bans during maternity protection: What do employers need to consider?

Employers are obliged to discuss options for adapting their working conditions with pregnant or breastfeeding employees. The aim is to enable interruptions to work without the affected employees experiencing disadvantages such as time pressure or discrimination.

It is important that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are given breaks for necessary rest periods, which are counted as regular working hours. Especially in the later stages of pregnancy, when standing for long periods of time, more frequent toilet visits or a reduced work pace due to reduced lung volume become a challenge, the workplace must be adapted accordingly. Companies should have quiet rooms so that employees can rest. If such a room is not available, it is the responsibility of the safety officer to suggest that such a room be set up.

It is also important that the daily working hours for pregnant women do not exceed 8.5 hours. Employers must ensure that stress factors such as excessive time pressure, an excessive volume of work and physical exertion are avoided. This also applies to long journeys and business trips, which can cause additional stress. If this is also not feasible, an employment ban comes into effect.

Conclusion

To summarise, maternity protection is therefore a crucial component in protecting and supporting pregnant and breastfeeding mothers at work. By complying with legal requirements and proactively applying protective measures, a positive working environment can be created that promotes the health and well-being of all employees. It is the responsibility of employers and employees to be aware of these rights and obligations and to work together to develop an inclusive and supportive work culture. Let's work together to see maternity protection not just as a legal requirement, but as an opportunity to make the world of work more accessible and safer for all.

 

FAQs

  • How long does maternity leave last?

Maternity protection begins six weeks before the expected date of birth and ends eight weeks after the birth. In the case of premature and multiple births, the protection period is extended to 12 weeks after the birth.

 

  • When does the employer have to be informed about maternity protection?

There is no legal deadline for when you have to inform your employer, but the sooner the better. This way, any necessary protective measures and adjustments can be implemented in good time.

 

  • What does the employment ban mean during maternity leave?

The employment ban serves to protect mother and child. It prohibits work in the last six weeks before the birth and eight weeks afterwards. During this time, you are entitled to maternity benefit. Additional bans may apply in the event of health risks or hazards in the workplace.

 

  • How is a workplace hazard assessed during maternity leave?

The purpose of the risk assessment is to identify risks for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Employers must check whether the activity or working conditions need to be adapted in order to avoid health risks for mother and child.

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