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Health & Safety Risks for Maternity Staff

Liz Blamire

17th January 2023

'Gas & Air' is a popular pain relief option during labour and birth. It acts quickly, has minimal side effects and is perfectly safe for the baby. But long-term exposure carries risks and at one maternity unit in Essex, midwives have been over-exposed to unsafe levels of nitrous oxide.

The BBC reports - Basildon Hospital maternity staff exposed to 30 times legal gas limit - that the NHS Trust involved, failed to advise staff that they had been exposed to up to 30 times the legal workplace exposure limit for nitrous oxide. A key risk of long-term exposure to this gas is vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause a specific type of anaemia. Midwives and maternity support workers at the Trust are considering legal action and the whistleblower that raised the issue with the BBC, stated that staff were very angry.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) places a legal duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to keep staff safe at work, which includes regular risk assessments and control measures to reduce or eliminate hazards that can cause harm. It seems likely that in this case, the NHS Trust has failed in that duty. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that have legal powers of investigation and enforcement in health and safety incidents, are investigating.

Read more about Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia

Liz Blamire

Liz is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care. She is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author.

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