Pregnant women are exposed to a wide variety of occupational risks


Pregnant women are exposed in their work, to a wide variety of risk factors that can directly affect the evolution of pregnancy and also the health of the baby after birth. The exposure to the major risk factors is more common in younger women with low education, foreign women and temporary and independent workers. These are some of the main conclusions of the study made by INMA project researchers to analyze the main exposures to risk factors affecting pregnant women pregnant at work.

The study notes that, even though many European countries, including Spain, have developed specific legislation and actions to strengthen the protection of pregnant workers and infants, monitoring and protection of this particular group of workers remains weak and, therefore, should be strengthened.

The study, with more than 2,000 pregnant women, reveals that 50{3effe4377b6f02be2524d084f7d03914ac32a2b62c0a056ca3444e58c1f10d0b} of respondents were normally exposed to excessive physical load at work, while 45{3effe4377b6f02be2524d084f7d03914ac32a2b62c0a056ca3444e58c1f10d0b} reported frequent exposure to three or more indicators of psychosocial risk factors (as excessively rapid pace of work, monotonous and frecuents tasks or low support from the supervisor). Exposure to one or more physical contaminants (noise, vibration, electromagnetic fields) was cited by 22{3effe4377b6f02be2524d084f7d03914ac32a2b62c0a056ca3444e58c1f10d0b} of women, while a fifth of the respondents had contact with chemicals, including toxics with adverse effects recognized in reproductive health (solvents, lead or pesticides). The 6{3effe4377b6f02be2524d084f7d03914ac32a2b62c0a056ca3444e58c1f10d0b} reported some kind of exposure to biological agents.

Although results vary slightly depending on variables such as the type of contract, working hours, age or education, the study shows that the most determining factor in the level of exposure is the occupation. The exposures to chemicals and physical contaminants or excessive physical load are more usually in young workers, those with basic education or foreign women. Work stress indicators are also higher in workers with lower academic level. If we focus on changes that occur concerning the occupation, we can see that women related to manufacturing and industry world are more exposed to chemicals and physical contaminants, while the service and trade workers are more exposed to physical loads. Work-related stress is particularly notable in the industry and administrative worlds, while exposure to biological agents, although generally low, usually involving mainly workers with a high academic level and occupations related to the education, health and research .

Although there is not much documentation that has proven the direct effect of these exposures on the development of the pregnancy, some studies have shown that certain exposures, especially to chemicals, physical or biological agents or excessive physical load have very harmful effects on health. Complications such as spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, premature birth, congenital malformations or developmental delay have been associated directly to exposure to occupational hazards during pregnancy.

*Ana María García, head of the study “Prevalence of exposure to occupational Risks during pregnancy in Spain”, is a Medicine and Surgery Dr. from the University of Valencia and a PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (University of London). Actually, she’s a Head Teacher at the University of Valencia.