Friday November 22, 2019
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Department Of Public Health And Wellness Releases Health Impact Assessment On Kentucky Pregnant Workers Rights Act

Citing the desire to inform policy around Kentucky’s pregnant workers to ensure healthy pregnancies and full-term births, the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Center for Health Equity (CHE) and the Louisville Metro Board of Health have released a Health Impact Assessment of the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Rights Act (SB18).

A Health Impact Assessment is a process that brings together scientific data, health expertise and public input to identify potential health effects of proposed laws and regulations, programs, and projects. For this assessment CHE staff spoke with stakeholders and conducted a comprehensive review of existing data on the health impacts of working while pregnant to provide a more thorough understanding of how certain working environments can impact health. They also looked at evidence for the types of accommodations that can be made to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for pregnant workers and their developing children.

“Almost everything shapes our health—where we work, play, pray, and live. Health Impact Assessments gather the right information to gain an understanding of how policies and programs affect our health so decision-makers can promote policies and plans that improve and protect health for all,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and Chief Health Strategist for the city.  The department has been conducting Health Impact Assessments since 2017.

According to 2013 U.S. Census data, 62% of women were working while they carried their developing child. “The relationship between the working environment and its impact on pregnancy is significant,” said Moyer. “Maternal health is crucial to the future health and success of a woman’s child,” she added. “For instance, babies born with low birth weights are at much greater risk for chronic health conditions that can impact them throughout their lives including heart disease and diabetes as well as the ability to concentrate and thrive academically, that’s why we felt it was important to look at the health impacts of this legislation.”

Key findings include:

  • Kentucky ranks 5th in the country for high rates of preterm births. Data tells us low birthweight is more common among Black infants than White or Hispanic infants. Health disparities related to race may be compounded by poor birth outcomes related to the working environment.
  • The majority of Kentucky’s female workforce does not have an advanced education. Of women with births in the last 12 months, 15% did not have a high school diploma and the majority had less than a full college degree.  Level of education can impact the type of work available which ultimately impacts their health. Those with higher educations may work in positions that are less physically demanding while those with less than a high school or college diploma may work in positions that require more physical labor such as that found in factory jobs.
  • Jobs available to people with limited education often pay lower wages and have less flexibility with modification requests. Women in these jobs are given less choice and control over the employment available to them than those with higher education and more flexible working hours.
  • Women of color also experience differences in working environments due to racial inequities which may act as an additional burden from acquiring basic measures to protect their health and the health of their infants. Nearly one-third of Kentucky’s population identifies as a race other than white.
  • Jobs that require physical labor including heavy lifting, bending and standing for long periods of time may create strain on a pregnant worker and her developing child and can lead to increased risk of miscarriage or preterm birth.
  • Evidence indicates that women working in extremely loud environments caused by heavy machinery, loud music, guns, sirens, or a jack hammer can place their babies at risk of hearing loss.
  • Allowing pregnant and postpartum workers to make reasonable modifications in their work environment such as modified duty, more frequent bathroom breaks, carrying a water bottle, and providing a safe comfortable and private space for lactating mothers to express milk can significantly reduce health risks to their developing child.

“Pregnant workers contribute significant hours to the workforce, participating in the economy and providing for their families,” said Dr. Karen Cost, chair of the Louisville Metro Board of Health. “Making basic modifications to accommodate a woman’s physical changes during pregnancy can help alleviate health concerns for themselves and their developing child while allowing women to continue to earn an income. The Kentucky Pregnant Workers Rights Act is a sound policy to help all pregnant workers deliver healthy babies.”

“As an owner of a storage facility, the benefits of a happy, healthy and productive pregnant worker far outweigh the cost of providing basic accommodations necessary,” said Helen Helton, owner of Aladdin Self Storage in Louisville. “A great employee is an asset to a business. It makes business sense to offer basic accommodations for pregnant workers.”

A complete copy of the Health Impact Assessment on the Kentucky Pregnant Worker’s Rights Act can be found here.

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