Research Safety for Pregnant Workers
This site can help you better identify your potential research-related risks and develop potential mitigation strategies.
Contact EH&S to learn how we can support your research safety needs.
Q: Should I be worried if I work in a laboratory?
A: A safe laboratory setting should minimize most risks; however, no workplace can eliminate all risks and your pregnancy should be factored into your new personal risk assessment. Because research is highly specialized, the most important first steps you can take, are to:
- Realistically assess your potential laboratory risks
- Consult with a medical professional to discuss your health concerns
EH&S can assist you in identifying your research-related risks and discuss potential mitigation strategies. This knowledge can then be shared with your medical physician to better evaluate your potential health concerns.
♦ Step 1: How can I assess chemicals that may harm my baby?
It is important for workers to identify their specific chemical hazards and the quantities used. Most relevant is the category of reproductive toxins, which include teratogens, embryotoxins, and mutagens. A GHS-compliant chemical label is your first source for this information. Safety Data Sheets (SDS) can provide further details and useful indicators, such as standardized Hazard Statements, which can be found under Section 2, “Hazards Identification” of the SDS (e.g., “May Cause harm to breast-fed children”, “May damage fertility or the unborn child”, etc.). All chemical manufactures/distributors are required by Cal/OSHA Hazard Communication Standards to list hazard statements within the SDS for each chemical.
To better identify your specific chemical hazards, contact the EH&S Laboratory Safety Division to request a curated list of hazard classes for your laboratory based on your lab’s current UC Chemicals inventory. EH&S can then review relevant safety resources, such as the UCLA Banded SOP’s, and further discuss any chemical or laboratory-related concerns that are specific to your research.
HAVE LAB/CHEM QUESTIONS?
Contact Laboratory Safety: [email protected]
♦ Step 2: How can I assess biohazards that may harm my baby?
Some biological agents pose increased risks for a developing fetus relative to a healthy adult. Examples of fetal pathogens include Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma species, Zika Virus, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Enteroviruses. Your pregnancy may also affect the choice of prophylactic strategies during exposure response. Consult with Occupational Health to identify whether alternative post-exposure plans are warranted.
Biological hazards present in your laboratory are listed comprehensively in your lab’s Biological Use Authorization and on the laboratory door card. If you are unsure whether a listed agent is a fetal pathogen, contact the EH&S Biosafety Division to help you identify hazards related to the agents in your laboratory.
HAVE BIOHAZARD QUESTIONS?
Contact Biosafety: [email protected]
♦ Step 3: How can I assess radiation hazards that may harm my baby?
Exposure of a developing fetus to ionizing radiation is assumed to carry a risk of causing certain adverse health effects. The occurrence and severity of these health effects depend on radiation type, total dose, stage of pregnancy, and the time period over which the exposure was received. However, from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Regulatory Guide 8.13, studies of exposure to low levels of radiation (<50 mSv) at any stage during pregnancy have suggested no greater risk for birth defects or miscarriages. The NRC concluded that the 5 mSv regulatory limit for total fetal gestational dose provides an adequate margin of protection for the embryo/fetus.
Detailed information regarding radiation hazards in your laboratory can be found in your lab’s Radiation Use Authorization. Contact the EH&S Radiation Safety Division to discuss your lab’s specific radiation risks and to request additional resources, such as fetal dosimetry monitoring and an assessment for additional shielding.
HAVE RADIATION QUESTIONS?
Contact us at [email protected]
♦ Step 4: How can I reduce exposure to hazards in my laboratory?
Elimination of Hazardous Tasks:
Consider whether any potentially hazardous tasks can be temporarily transferred. As an example, having a colleague dilute hazardous stock solutions for you can greatly reduce your risk by eliminating your interaction with concentrated toxins. This strategy removes the hazards from your direct environment altogether and is an excellent short-term option whenever possible.
Substitution of Hazards:
Mitigating hazards through substitution, such as using alcohol thermometers instead of mercury thermometers or substituting ethidium bromide for safer alternatives, can greatly reduce your potential risk without affecting your research goals. The practicality of substitutions is specific to each field or project and should be considered where possible. Consult with your Principle Investigator, supervisor, and/or EH&S about potential substitutions.
Engineering and Administrative Controls:
Engineering and administrative controls can be an effective means to reduce one’s risks, however reviewing your controls early on is important since most controls are user-specific and may not be effective throughout your pregnancy. As an example, engineering controls such as fume hoods, glove boxes, biosafety cabinets, etc., generally impose mild physical strains on users, which may be intensified or restrictive for pregnant workers. In addition, consider how administrative controls, such as standard operating procedures, lab-specific trainings, etc., take into consideration your research-safety needs throughout all stages of your pregnancy. EH&S is available to discuss the choice, operation, and relevant safety features of engineering controls; consult on administrative controls; and/or help plan for future modifications to any current controls.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
PPE serves as the last line of defense against exposure. No PPE is a perfect barrier; thus, it is important to consider permeation and breakthrough times specific to the chemical, biological, and radiation hazards you work with. PPE is user-specific, therefore any PPE provided before pregnancy may need to be resized (e.g., lab coats), recertified (e.g., respirators), or reevaluated (e.g., lead aprons). Contact EH&S to evaluate your PPE choice and use, and consult a medical professional about any PPE recommendations.
♦ Step 5: What are my next steps?
Contact an EH&S Safety Specialist to Begin a Discussion
Lab/Chem safety: [email protected]
Biosafety: [email protected]
Radsafety: [email protected]
Completion of a declaration of pregnancy form may be needed for specific services, but is not required for initial discussions.
(Optional): Complete a Self-Assessment Worksheet
Print or download the self-assessment worksheet. EH&S can review the worksheet (completed or partially completed) with you upon request.
EH&S is available to discuss your lab-related risks through in-person consultations. Based on these assessments, EH&S can recommend potential mitigation strategies and best practices for your research safety.
♦ Step 6: Helpful contacts & UCLA resources:
UCLA Office of Environment, Health & Safety
501 Westwood Plaza, 4th Floor,
Los Angeles, CA 90095
UCLA Occupational Health Services ( 7 am - 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday)
10833 Le Conte Ave, Room 67-120 CHS
Los Angeles, CA 90095
UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services
221 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Graduate Division Academic Services
410 Charles E Young Drive E
Murphy Hall: Suite 1255 - Box 951428
Los Angeles, CA 90095