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Women of Childbearing Age


Departments must assess risks where women of childbearing age (both members of staff, students and others such as visiting researchers) undertake work which could involve risks to a new or expectant mother or her baby. This is a requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. A model general risk assessment has been produced and can be found on the Safety & Occupational Health website.

All women of childbearing age should be told about the risk assessment and urged to inform their line manager (in writing) as soon as possible if they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding. This is particularly important if they are likely to be exposed to situations or substances where there may be a significant risk to them or their child (including exposure to ionising radiation).

Where possible, actions must be taken to avoid risks by altering working conditions. Departments are not legally required to take action unless notified that the person is pregnant, has given birth within the previous 6 months or is breast-feeding. General guidance is given in the HSE booklet New & Expectant Mothers at Work – A Guide for Employers (HSG122; ISBN 7176-2583-4).

Departments must ensure that people potentially exposed to ionising radiation are given information, instruction and training about the risks and the requirements for safe working. Specific guidance is given in the HSE document Working Safely with Ionising Radiation: Guidelines for Expectant or Breastfeeding Mothers (INDG334; single copies free) this document should be made available to such workers (it can be downloaded from the HSE website).

Significant exposure to ionising radiation can be harmful to an unborn child. Departments must:

  • Carry out a specific risk assessment of the work; and
  • Ensure that work conditions during the remainder of the pregnancy will keep exposure to as low a level as reasonably practicable and do not exceed the values specified in the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (see below).

Examples of exposure to ionising radiation are:

  • Cosmic radiation, which may affect frequent fliers;
  • Radiation taken into the body (e.g. by ingestion or inhalation) thereby irradiating the unborn child in the womb);
  • Radiation taken into the body and passing into the mother’s milk and posing a risk for the suckling child; or
  • Radioactive contamination of the skin or clothing which may be transferred to a child or present a direct hazard to a breastfeeding baby.

Babies in the womb will receive about 1 mSV from sources of natural radiation during pregnancy. The added dose from occupational exposure in the University (given current activities) should not be greater than 1 mSv and, in practice, should be considerably less provided good working practices are adopted and maintained.

Risk assessments must specify any working practices required to reduce exposure. This may include prohibiting activities where there is a significant risk of exposure. If appropriate, exposure of the abdomen must be restricted (by shielding etc). Examples of laboratory precautions include:

  • Limiting the time spent working with sources of ionising radiation;
  • Keeping as far away from sources of radiation as practicable;
  • Good working practices;
  • High standards of laboratory hygiene;
  • Monitoring for contamination after work with radiation sources;
  • Thorough hand-washing after handling radioactive substances.

All workers using sources of radiation have a duty to protect both themselves and others from hazards arising from their work and:

  • must not expose themselves or others to ionising radiations to a greater extent than the limits laid down for their work; and
  • must familiarise themselves with any specialised experimental techniques required or seek adequate instructions where appropriate from their Supervisor or Tutor or other appropriate person.

Guidance on exposure to cosmic radiation by frequent fliers can be found in Protection of Air Crew from Cosmic Radiation: Guidance material (downloadable from the Civil Aviation Authority website).

Dose limits for people working with ionising radiation are set by the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.

  • Women of reproductive capacity: An equivalent dose limit applies to the abdomen of women of reproductive capacity for exposure to external radiation, being 13 mSv in any consecutive period of 3 months; and
  • Pregnant women and foetus: once the pregnancy has been formally declared to the University Radiation Protection Officer in writing, the University must ensure that the dose to the foetus is unlikely to exceed 1 mSv from all sources during the remainder of the pregnancy.

Doses must be kept as low as is reasonably practicable and preferably below the dose limits for members of the public. If there is reason to suppose that the above dose limits have been exceeded, the University Radiation Protection Officer must be informed immediately so that appropriate action can be taken and a full investigation carried out.

The need for radiation workers to receive dosimetry must be determined as part of radiation risk assessments. Dosimetry is of 2 types:

  • Film badges (changed bimonthly) measuring whole body radiation; and/or
  • TLD finger badges (changed monthly) measuring local doses to the hand.

Women of child bearing should be given the opportunity of discussing potential radiation issues with the local Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS) or the University Radiation Protection Officer (URPO). If necessary, issues can be referred to Occupational Health or to the external Radiation Protection Adviser (through the URPO).