A wide range of activities and tasks conducted by the University can potentially expose staff and students to chemical, biological, radiological and physical hazards that may result in reproductive health effects. The effects of reproductive impairment for males and females can include infertility, impotence, miscarriage, foetal abnormality, underweight babies, premature birth or early menopause.
The information contained in this document is provided to support the University’s OHS Policy.
This guideline has been developed for the University of Sydney's Faculties, Schools & Departments to provide general information to staff and students about reproductive hazards, an explanation of how agents, substances and materials in the workplace can cause reproductive problems and recommendations for preventing exposure to reproductive hazards.
A range of work environemnts have the potential to contain reproductive hazards that may affect a person's health. These include laboratories, farms, grounds maintenance, veterinary clinics, laboratory animal services, operating theatres and hospitals.
- Performance Standards
Reproductive Hazards – are agents, substances and materials which affect men's and women's ability to have healthy children. Individual exposure is usually based on how long the persons are exposed, how much of the hazards they are exposed to, how they were exposed and varying individual dynamics.
The following standards apply to all staff and students at risk of exposure to reproductive hazards:
1. Staff and students are to advise their supervisor as soon as possible when they are pregnant;
2. Pregnant staff and students are encouraged to discuss their work environment with their personal GPs;
3. Supervisors must address potential workplace reproductive hazards by undertaking appropriate risk management strategies;
4. Staff and students must follow University and local OHS practices and procedures to prevent exposures;
Working with Chemicals
Exposure to certain chemicals is known to harm the foetus and/or the reproductive health of adults. Of major concern are:
- Carcinogens, Mutagens and Teratogens;
- Cytotoxic drugs;
- Carbon Monoxide;
- Heavy metals;
- Anaesthetic agents;
- Organophosphate pesticides.
In a typical work environment at the University, inhalation is the most common route of exposure. Skin absorption and ingestion are rarely significant routes of entry, provided that safe work practices are observed.
To limit exposure, the following procedure should be followed:
- Review the material safety data sheets (MSDS) of each chemical/substance to become familiar with any reproductive hazards that may be present;
- Avoid inhalation by only using chemicals in a fume cupboard;
- Store chemicals in sealed containers during transport, storage and handling;
- Wash hands after contact with any laboratory reagents;
- Ensure there is a high level of effective ventilation;
- If working with lead or anaesthetic agents, workplace monitoring may be required;
- Use appropriate personel protection equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, gown etc.
Working with animals and micro-organisms
A wide range of micro-organisms, some of which can be transmitted by animals, can cause infection in the human population and are known to present a risk to pregnant women and the foetus. These include:
- Chlamydia psittaci (transmitted by birds);
- Human cytomegalovirus (CMV);
- Heptatitis A;
- Hepatitis B,
- HIV 1 and 2;
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Human parvovirus;
- Rubella virus from humans;
- Toxoplasma gondii (trasmitted by cats);
- Varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox).
Safe animal handling techniques, good microbiological work practices and correct hygiene procedures, including regular hand-washing, will minimise the risk of infection.
Working with Ionizing Radiation
Exposure to ionizing radiation may occur during x-ray procedures or work involving radioactive substances. When female staff or students declare a pregnancy, the embryo or foetus should be afforded the same level of radiation protection as required for members of the public, which is a dose limit of 1 mSv per year. An appropriate personal monitoring system must be in place to ensure that this limit is not exceeeded.
To limit the exposure, the following procedure should be followed:
- Review safe work practices associated with radiation work;
- Ensure safety requirements for each radioactive isotope being used are followed;
- Check previous personal monitor readings (eg TLD badge readings) as a guide to determine the hazard level of the procedure being taken;
- Monitor the work area before and after use of isotopes with a suitable meter, to ensure the work area is clear of radiological hazards;
- Monitor yourself after completion of every procedure;
- Obtain advice from the University's Radiation Safety Officer (RSO), if needed.
Work involving physical activity
Awkward posture, high levels of stress, heavy or repetitive lifting, long working hours and standing for long periods of time have been associated with spontaneous abortion, premature delivery and low birth weight infants. Excessive physical exertion may affect hormone balance, blood flow to the uterus and pressure within the abdomen. Ergonomically unsuitable work conditions could also result in a pre-term birth.
Improving ergonomic conditions, taking regular rest breaks, varying sitting and standing times can improve the health, safety and wellbeing of pregnant staff and students.
All staff and students who have the potential to be exposed to reproductive hazards during the course of their work must be trained in:
- How they can detect the presence or release of hazardous agents, substances and materials;
- Health and physical risks associated with reproductive and developmental hazards that may be present in the workplace;
- How they can protect themelves from exposure through safe work practices (e.g. proper storage and handling, emergency procedures and use of appropriate personal protective equipment).
Training records must be kept by the Department.