Redesigning jobs to reduce risks for pregnant women

A study by Monash University has found that shift work and long hours are increasing preterm birth risks for female employees.
By: | October 27, 2023

Navigating the demands of work during pregnancy can pose challenges for expectant mothers, and recent research has shed light on the potential impact of certain workplace factors on preterm birth risks.

The study, conducted by Monash University, revealed a significant correlation between shift work, extended work hours, and physically demanding jobs with an increased risk of preterm birth before the 37-week mark of pregnancy. Specifically, women in shift work roles had a 63% higher risk compared to those on regular schedules, while those working over 40 hours per week had a 44% higher risk.

The study also uncovered moderate, non-quantifiable evidence linking preterm birth to jobs with high physical exertion and exposure to whole-body vibration. However, there was no evidence suggesting an increased risk for women who stood for extended periods at work or were involved in heavy lifting, defined as lifting more than 5kg at a time or exceeding 50kg over the course of the day.

Alex Collie, the study’s co-author and Professor and Director, Healthy Working Lives Research Group, Monash University, stressed that the study does not discourage pregnant women from working but encourages employers to consider modifying job demands for expectant mothers.

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“Most jobs are able to be modified in some way to reduce exposure to physical tasks,” he explained, adding the importance of open communication between pregnant employees and their employers to identify and implement risk-reduction strategies.

“As the number of Australian women in the workforce has increased, so has the number of women in physically demanding jobs. We need workplace policy and procedures that balance these risks while not limiting the workforce participation of women,” he concluded.