In Brief

  • Workers may express concerns to an OSH professional about reproductive and developmental health effects, prenatal exposure or exposure during breastfeeding.

  • Little guidance on risk assessments for susceptible workers is available to practicing OSH professionals.

  • Risk assessments for susceptible workers should be conducted as part of a comprehensive safety management system or industrial hygiene program.

  • This article presents a model for evaluating susceptible workers, including new and expectant parents, developed by the authors to help OSH professionals evaluate workplace risks and hazards.

OSH professionals may experience an increased interest in and concerns about providing gender equal protection from their employer's management team, occupational medicine providers and human resources partners. The protection of reproductive health for all genders must be ensured in the workplace. There have been significant changes to regulatory and legal aspects of gender equal protection in recent years (Pisko, 2016). International conversations have re-energized the discussion about providing inclusive and gender equal protection in the workplace.

In the U.S., state-based laws have generally been termed a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) or similarly named acts. As of November 2017, 22 states, the District of Columbia, and four municipalities have enacted PWFA legislation, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia (National Partnership for Women and Families, 2017). A PFWA has been proposed at the federal level (S.1512), but progress in passing the act is slow. Congress has "attempted multiple times to pass" the federal PWFA, but the law has been opposed by several sessions of Congress (Pisko, 2016).

Upcoming regulatory changes associated with revisions to EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act are also relevant. As part of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (2016), a definition for "potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation" has been established to include a group of individuals with greater risk than the general population for adverse health effects relating to chemical exposure. This greater risk is further explained to be either from greater susceptibility or greater exposure, and includes infants, children, pregnant women, workers and the elderly.

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