Many factors can affect a woman’s reproductive health and her ability to produce healthy children. We know that the health of an unborn child can suffer if a woman fails to eat right, smokes, or drinks alcohol during pregnancy. However, we know very little about the cause of most reproductive health problems such as infertility,
miscarriage, and birth defects. We do know that some workplace hazards can affect a woman’s reproductive health, her ability to become pregnant, or the health of her unborn children.
This this article from NIOSH, answers the following questions:
- What are reproductive hazards for female workers?
- How does the female reproductive system work?
- What reproductive problems might be caused by workplace exposures?
- How are workers and their babies exposed?
- How are families exposed?
- How can exposures be prevented?
NIOSH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
What are Reproductive Hazards for Female Workers?
Substances or agents that affect the reproductive health of women or men or the ability of couples to have healthy children are called reproductive hazards. Radiation, some chemicals, certain drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, some viruses, and alcohol are examples of reproductive hazards. This pamphlet focuses on reproductive hazards in the workplace that affect women and their ability to have healthy children
. The harmful effects of a few agents found in the workplace have been known for many years. For example, more than 100 years ago, lead was discovered to cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infertility in What are Reproductive Hazards for Female Workers? female pottery workers. Rubella (German measles) was recognized as a major cause of birth defects in the 1940s. However, the causes of most reproductive health problems are still not known. Many of these problems—infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight—are fairly common occurrences and affect working and nonworking women.
A reproductive hazard could cause one or more health effects, depending on when the woman is exposed. For example, exposure to harmful substances during the first 3 months of pregnancy might cause a birth defect or a miscarriage. During the last 6 months of pregnancy, exposure to reproductive hazards could slow the growth of the fetus, affect the development of its brain, or cause premature labor. Reproductive hazards may not affect every worker or every pregnancy. Workers with immunity through vaccinations or earlier exposures are not generally at risk from diseases such as hepatitis B, human parvovirus B19, German measles, or chicken pox. But pregnant workers without prior immunity should avoid contact with infected children or adults. Workers should also use good hygienic practices such as frequent handwashing to prevent the spread of infectious diseases among workers in elementary schools, nursery schools, and daycare centers. In addition, they should use universal precautions—such as glove wearing and safe disposal of needles—to protect against disease-causing agents found in blood.