Information and preventive measures can reduce absenteeism during pregnancy

Working during pregnancy may expose women to several risk factors. According to recent findings of the National Survey on Working Conditions, information at an early stage on the consequences of the pregnancy for the working capacity of pregnant women, as well as implementing preventive measures, can prevent and significantly reduce absenteeism related to pregnancy or the birth of a child. Nonetheless, such information and measures are only provided to 25% of pregnant women.

Working during pregnancy may expose women to certain risk factors, such as heavy physical work, exposure to chemicals and high work pressure, which could negatively influence their health and that of their unborn child. Furthermore, due to their different body size and changing functional capacities, work may impose a relatively high demand on pregnant women. As a result, pregnant women may be at risk of developing more health problems and be more often absent from work than working women who are not pregnant. Therefore, a number of safety rules and regulations have been implemented in the Netherlands, all of which are designed to protect pregnant as well as breastfeeding women and their children, and prevent any work absenteeism in relation to the pregnancy. However, despite these regulations, pregnant women in the Netherlands still show a higher rate of absenteeism compared with non-pregnant working women.

Absenteeism levels among pregnant women

According to the National Survey on Working Conditions (Nationale Enquête Arbeidsomstandigheden, NEA), about 13% of the female working population has been pregnant between 2003 and 2006. Of these pregnant women, about two thirds have been absent from work at some stage during 2005. The absenteeism rate of pregnant women is slightly higher than that of non-pregnant women. In addition, women who are pregnant for the first time show an even higher rate of work absenteeism than women who are not pregnant or those who are pregnant with their second or subsequent child (Figure 1).

In terms of absenteeism, differences between pregnant women and those who are not pregnant also arise regarding the duration of absence from work. On average, pregnant women are absent for about 8.5 working days at a time, while non-pregnant women are absent for about 7.5 working days at a time. Among pregnant women, about 8% of the absenteeism is mainly due to the pregnancy and about 17% of this absenteeism is partly due to the work itself. Overall, 1% of absenteeism among pregnant women is related to a combination of work and pregnancy.

Figure 1: Work absenteeism rates among non-pregnant and pregnant women, 2003–2006 (%)

Figure 1: Work absenteeism rates among non-pregnant and pregnant women, 2003–2006 (%)

Source: NEA, 2003–2006

Information provision and preventive measures

About 25% of pregnant women receive information about working during pregnancy; this is a relatively low rate, given that it is a right of any pregnant women to be informed. Moreover, for about one third of pregnant women preventive measures are taken. It should be noted that women who are pregnant for the first time receive less often information on the consequences of their working capacity in relation to the pregnancy, and benefit the least from any preventive measures in relation to their work and the pregnancy.

Figure 2: Trends in information provision and preventive measures

Figure 2: Trends in information provision and preventive measures

Source: NEA, 2003–2006

Multivariate analyses show that implementing preventive measures are not necessarily associated with the level of absenteeism among pregnant women; however, the analyses have shown that information provision reduced the risk of absence among pregnant women by half (odds ratio at 0.53).

In general, women with poorer working conditions receive more often information as regards working and their pregnancy, and provisional measures are also taken more often in these cases (Figure 3). An exception in this respect is the aspect of work pressure: pregnant women with a high work pressure receive less information than women with a low work pressure. Similarly, less preventive measures are taken for women with a high work pressure than for women with a low work pressure.

Impact of information provision and preventive measures, by type of working conditions (%)

Impact of information provision and preventive measures, by type of working conditions (%)

Source: NEA, 2003–2006

Although pregnant women are subject to several safety rules and regulations that are designed to prevent any sickness in relation to the pregnancy and thus being absent from work, they do not always seem to receive the information, for example, on preventive measures that they are entitled to. Absenteeism rates among pregnant women are substantially higher than among non-pregnant women. However, information provision about working during the course of a pregnancy may be an important factor in preventing work absenteeism during the pregnancy.

Reference

Hooftman, W. and van den Bossche, S., Zwangerschap en werk: voorlichting, maatregelen en verzuim. Deelresultaten van de Nationale Enquête Arbeidsomstandigheden 2003–2006 [Pregnancy and work: information for pregnant workers, provisional measures and sickness absence. Secondary analyses of the Netherlands Working Conditions Survey 2003 2006], Hoofddorp, TNO, 2007.

Wendela Hooftman and Irene Houtman, TNO Work and Employment

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