Workplace standards for exposure to toxicants during pregnancy

Till C, Koren G, Rovet J


Canadian Journal of Public Health


Abstract

Many women of childbearing age are exposed to reproductive toxicants in the workplace. This article highlights the need for an evaluation of current occupational exposure guidelines for pregnant women working with hazardous agents that have the potential of being reproductive toxins. Limited information regarding reproductive risks associated with many chemicals in the workplace presents challenges in the establishment of standards that are 'safe' for vulnerable populations, such as the fetus. The management of these risks must take into consideration the limitations of available knowledge as well as individual risk factors that may amplify the likelihood of adverse outcomes. In 1981, Quebec adopted a policy that provides "precautionary leave" or reassignment of pregnant workers to other jobs if they are exposed to a factor suspected to compromise their health or that of their fetus during pregnancy. The advantages and disadvantages of this approach to managing reproductive hazards are discussed. The existence of a regulatory safety net at the level of the workplace for minimizing the impact of toxicant exposure on reproductive health outcomes is stressed. Management options that can be implemented early to provide added protection when a hazard cannot be reduced or eliminated are recommended.