Many toxic chemicals used widely today in the industry, agricultural farms and homes, have the potential to cross the placenta during pregnancy. Thus, pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to their effects including miscarriages, stillbirths, low birth weight babies, or babies with birth defects.
Some chemicals can contaminate mother’s breast milk. This can lead to health problems in infants such as neurodevelopment delay and disorders in the endocrine system.
Examples of chemicals with reproductive effects include formaldehyde, solvents (e.g., benzene, toluene, hexane and xylene), pesticides, disinfectants and sterilants, heavy metals (e.g., lead, cadmium, cobalt, mercury and arsenic). Their exposure occurs primarily by inhalation or skin absorption.
The OSH Act, 2006, sec. 97 (1), requires every employer to ensure that such hazardous chemicals delivered to their workplaces are accompanied by their appropriate chemical safety data sheets (SDS).
If a chemical is a known reproductive hazard, its SDS will give the appropriate exposure control measures under section 8 (exposure controls/personal protection) and state the reproductive effects under Section 11 (toxicological information).
Pregnant women working with highly hazardous chemicals should therefore be assisted to take the utmost caution.
They should always work with these chemicals in a properly functioning fume hood while using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid exposure. PPE typically reduces exposure, but does not eliminate it completely, so wearing PPE does not guarantee complete protection for pregnant mothers or their unborn babies.
Important consideration when selecting and using appropriate PPE during pregnancy may include, ensuring that chemical resistant gloves and protective clothing are used. Gloves and protective clothing supplied must come along with guides that show how long a specific fabric will hold up to specific chemicals. When using respirators or protective masks, they must be worn safely and correctly and must be fitted to your face to make a tight seal for protection. Pregnant women, who may experience breathing difficulties with their normal respirators, should be allowed to switch job duties temporarily so they don’t have to wear a respirator.
Therefore, as we celebrate the World Day for Safety and Health at work on April 28, the Occupational Safety and Health department under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development calls upon employers to protect vulnerable persons including pregnant women against toxic chemicals.
Mr. Kissa R. Alunga, Safety Specialist Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development