Precautions for Reproductive Health

If you are pregnant or are in the planning stages of starting a family, it is never too early, or too late, to evaluate possible physical and chemical hazards in your work area.  Substances or agents that affect reproductive health or the ability of couples to have healthy children are called “reproductive hazards”. These hazards may be from exposure to radiation, chemicals, drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, microorganisms, or alcohol.  Hazards may affect the male reproductive system, the female reproductive system, and/or the fetus. (UC Davis) 

Although some specific reproductive hazards have been identified in humans (e.g., lead, solvents, and ionizing radiation), most of the more than 1,000 workplace chemicals that have shown abnormal reproductive effects in animals have not been studied in humans.  In addition, according to CDC Handbook of Laboratory Safety, 5th Edition, most of the 4 million other chemical mixtures in commercial use remain untested. 

We suggest that females inform their supervisors of pregnancies so that the potential work hazards in the workplace can be evaluated.  EHSRM can help perform this evaluation and provide sampling, if needed, to quantify exposure levels.  Perhaps one of the most frustrating concepts with this subject is the lack of complete data on chemical hazards to reproductive health and pregnancy.  However, there are some guidelines that can help reduce exposure.  These are listed below and are also contained in the UC Davis web site listed in the Helpful Links section of this module.

  • Inform your supervisor of your pregnancy so that he or she can review potential hazards in your work area.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, apply cosmetics, etc. in the laboratory.
  • Review SDSs to become familiar with any reproductive hazards presented by chemicals. If you are concerned about reproductive hazards in the workplace, consult your doctor or health care provider.
  • Use personal protective equipment (gloves, respirators, and personal protective clothing) to reduce exposures to workplace hazards.
  • Avoid skin contact. Wear two pairs of gloves whenever possible. Change gloves often, and anytime they become torn.
  • Wear a buttoned lab coat with the sleeves down. Fasten sleeves inside the gloves with rubber bands if you can.
  • If you must handle an open container of a volatile chemical, do so in the fume hood. Make sure the fume hood is working properly (e.g. sashes in place, flow monitor working, face velocity 100-120 fpm).
  • When it is not possible to handle a hazardous powder inside a fume hood (for example, when weighing out acrylamide), minimize dust, use an enclosure or wear a fitted respirator.
  • Store chemicals in sealed containers when they are not in use.
  • Do not mouth pipet under any circumstances.
  • Remove gloves before any hand-face contact (including rubbing the nose or eyes).
  • Wash hands after contact with hazardous materials and before eating, drinking, or smoking.
  • If chemicals contact the skin, wash with soap and water.
  • Participate in all safety and health education, training and monitoring programs offered by your employer.
  • Use good work practices and lab engineering controls (such as the fume hood).
  • Avoid taking contaminated clothing or other objects home. Store street clothes in a separate area and wash work clothing separately from other laundry (at work if possible).
  • Be aware that chemical exposures are not limited to the laboratory. Other potential sources of chemical exposures are art materials (e.g. paints, solvents, glazes), cleaning materials, paints and automotive products commonly used in homes and garages.
  • If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy and use any of the following types of chemical, you should call EHSRM for a detailed evaluation of your work:
  • Antineoplastic (chemotherapy) drugs
  • Experimental drugs
  • Carcinogens, Class II or III
  • Heavy metals and their compounds (e.g. mercury, methyl mercury)
  • Anesthetic gases

The most important thing you can do is know the hazards that are present in your work place so you can make an informed decision regarding whether you want to choose to continue working with those products.  The Helpful Link section contains several web sites with valuable information.  The University of Bath, California Department of Health Services and UC Davis are especially helpful.

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