Health & Safety FAQ

Q. What are our Health & Safety obligations?
A. Health and safety regulations do not prevent an employee from expressing breastmilk or feeding her baby in the workplace, provided this can be done under healthy and safe conditions.

Your existing health and safety management systems (hazard identification and controls under the Health and Safety in employment Act) should already have identified any actual or potential hazards for employees and other people in the workplace and for you to have taken all practicable steps to prevent health and safety risks. Another risk assessment may need to be done bearing in mind the particular needs of a breastfeeding woman and her baby.

Q. What is the risk assessment process?
A. Identify, remove, manage or control.

a. The risk needs to be identified. Note that “not breastfeeding” is a risk to the health and safety of the mother and baby
b. Remove or control the risk e.g:
- Temporarily adjust working hours or conditions to avoid the risk .
- If a suitable space to breastfeed cannot be provided, the employer may need to offer longer or more frequent breaks so the mother can leave work to feed her baby or a shorter work day.
c. If temporary adjustment is not possible, suitable alternative work may be a solution. The same terms and conditions including pay should apply e.g:
- If the employee’s usual role involves heavy manual handling, this task may be risky shortly after child birth or could interfere with breastfeeding, therefore, alternative work may need to be found temporarily

In general, lactation shouldn’t prevent a woman from doing anything, unless medically indicated or deemed hazardous.

Q. What is the health risk if a breastfeeding mother isn’t given a break to breastfeed or express?
A. Mothers who are separated from their infants and unable to eliminate breastmilk from their breasts are at risk of mastitis.

Mastitis is an infection of the breasts that usually requires several days off work and a visit to the doctor. It makes good business sense to avoid unnecessary days off work by providing breastfeeding breaks.

Q. What are hazardous substances for breastfeeding mothers and babies?
A. Some substances such as solvents, metals and pesticides can enter breastmilk and so pose a danger to the breastfed baby.

In particular breastfeeding mothers should avoid working with mercury, radioactive material and exposure to lead.

Q Are there special requirements for handling expressed breastmilk?
A. Breastmilk is classed as a food and simply needs to be treated as such.

(i.e. Labelled with a name and date, stored in a fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer compartment for 5 weeks). If no fridge is available a chilly bin will suffice as breastmilk is a living substance with antibiotic properties that is safe at room temperature for several hours.

Q. Do we have to make provisions for a child in the workplace?
A. Making provision for children is not a requirement to provide support to breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, however in some cases it can be part of the agreed arrangements.

Depending on the type of work and age of the child, a breastfeeding child may be in a workplace. Children do not usually begin to crawl until nine or more months old. Considering the particular operational environment of a workplace, pre-crawling infants at work with their mothers may not require any major changes to the work environment. Once crawling, alternative arrangements can be made such as attending a nearby early childhood centre.

In some particularly hazardous workplaces, like manufacturing, logging and construction sites, the presence of children under 15 years of age is restricted under health and safety regulations. The restriction does not apply when children are under direct supervision of an adult, as would be the case of a child being brought into the workplace for breastfeeding.

References and for further information

Department of Labour 

Breastfeeding in the Workplace; A guide for employers

New and Expectant Mothers at Work – Guidelines for Health & Safety (booklet)

Advice for New and Expectant Mothers at Work (leaflet)