Reproductive toxicity FAQs

The purpose of these FAQs is to provide safety information on reproductive toxicity to female and male workers causing adverse effects: on sexual function and fertility; pregnancy; on or via lactation; and development of the offspring.

This information should be read in conjunction with the Hazard Management chapter of the HSW Handbook together with other HSW chapters and FAQs including radiation, chemical safety, biological safety and manual handling.

Note: The term “seek medical advice” in this document refers to advice from medical practitioners or obstetricians as appropriate.

(Printable version)

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  • What agents in the University can affect reproduction (fertility, pregnancy or breast feeding)?

    Agents which can affect the body’s reproductive systems include the following:

    • Some hazardous chemicals
    • Radiation
    • Some biological agents
    • Manual handling
    • Noise
    • Excessive vibration
    • Temperature.
  • What does an 'adverse effects on sexual function and fertility' mean?

    This refers to any effect of Agents that would interfere with sexual function and fertility.  This may include, but is not limited to, alterations to the female and male reproductive system, adverse effects on the onset of puberty, reproductive cycle, sexual behaviour, fertility, childbirth, pregnancy outcomes, or modifications in other functions that are dependent on the integrity of the reproductive systems.

  • What does an 'adverse effects on development of the offspring' mean?

    Developmental toxicity includes any effect which interferes with normal development of the embryo, either before or after birth.  It is primarily intended to provide hazard warnings for pregnant women and men and women of reproductive capacity.  These effects can be manifested at any point in the life span of the foetus.

  • What does an 'adverse effects on or via lactation for breastfeeding mothers' mean?

    Substances which are absorbed by women may interfere in lactation, or be present in breast milk in amounts sufficient to cause concern for the health of a breastfed child.

  • How do I identify chemicals/substances that are toxic to reproduction or cause heritable damage?

    Via the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the chemical. Each SDS is slightly different so you may find that there is information in one section but not another.
    Important Note: Health and safety data on chemicals is subject to change, sometimes frequently, and before you use any chemical you should check the most up-to-date SDS for that chemical to determine if the potential risks associated with it have changed. Whether it is for reproductive or other human health issues, always observe the precautions and document them in a Risk Assessment (RA) and Safe Operating Procedure (SOP) where required by the Risk Assessment.

    Extract from a Chemwatch SDS

    Section
    Section 2
    Hazards Identification
    Risk Phrases R46 May cause heritable genetic damage
    R60 May impair fertility
    R61 May cause harm to the unborn child
    R62 Possible risk of impaired fertility
    R63 Possible risk of harm to the unborn child
    R64 May cause harm to breast-fed babies
    GHS Classification Reproductive Toxicity Category 1A
    Reproductive Toxicity Category 1B
    Reproductive Toxicity Category 2, Lactation Effects*
    Germ cell mutagenicity Category 1A
    Germ cell mutagenicity Category 1B
    Germ cell mutagenicity Category 2 
    Label elements
    Signal word Warning or Danger
    Hazard Statement(s) H340 May cause genetic defects.
    H341 Suspected of causing genetic defects.
    H360 May damage fertility or the unborn child.
    H361 Suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child.
    H362 May cause harm to breast-fed children.
    Precautionary Statement(s): Prevention P308 +P313 If exposed or concerned: Get medical advice/attention.
    P263 Avoid contact during pregnancy / while nursing.

    Section 11
    Toxicological Information

    Chronic This section refers to specific testing results. Most of the time this is related to animal trials but there may be results from human trials also. Phrases such as ‘exposure to the material may cause concerns for human fertility’
    • Possible developmental toxic effects.
    • Maternal toxicity
    • Birth defects
    • Teratogenic effects
    • Defects in the developing embryo (teratogenesis)
    Section 12
    Ecological Information
    Toxicity Harmful to aquatic organisms.
    Note: typically chemicals that will affect aquatic organisms may affect the unborn baby – this is the view considered by professionals in this field.

    Please refer the Appendix A of the Reproductive Toxicity Chapter for more examples of Safety Data Sheet information

  • What does 'no data available' mean in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

    "No data available" is a phrase used in the SDS when the company does not have its testing data available for this chemical. It is recommended that you also consult another SDS e.g. Chemwatch to see if the information is included in an alternative SDS.

  • What do I need to know about reproductive hazards if I am a male worker?

    Reproductive hazards can affect the male reproductive system by affecting the number of sperm, sperm shape, sperm transfer, sexual performance and sperm chromosomes. Consult the Safety Data Sheet for the chemical (sections 2), before using it and ensure that a risk assessment is conducted for the task.

    The Information below is specifically regarding male reproductive hazards (extract from Centre for Disease Control and Prevention).

    Male Reproductive Hazards* Observed effects
    Type of Exposure Lowered Number of Sperm Abnormal Sperm Shape Altered Sperm Shape Altered hormones/Sexual Performance
    2,4-Dichlorophenoxy Acetic Acid (2,4-D)   X X  
    Bromine Vapor** X X X  
    Carbaryl (Sevin)   X    
    Carbon Disulfide       X
    Dibromochloropropane X      
    Ethylene Dibromide X X X  
    Ethylene Glycol Monoethyl Ether X      
    Kepone (When exposed to high levels)     X  
    Lead X X X X
    Mercury Vapor       X
    Military Radar X      
    Perchloroethylene     X  
    Toluenediamine and Dinitrotoluene X      
    Heat X   X  
    Welding   X X  
  • What do men and women need to consider regarding their fertility and using radiation?

    Radiation threshold doses for adverse effects on male and female reproductive tissues are outlined below.

    Tissues and effects Total dose
    Single brief exposure (mSv)
    Annual dose rate received in highly fractionated or protracted exposure for many years (mSv/yr)
    Male Testes
    Temporary sterility 300 400
    Permanent sterility 3500-6000 2000
    Female Ovaries
    Sterility 2500-6000 >2000

    Note: University of Adelaide radiation workers in general are allowed a maximum of 1 millisievert (mSv) per year and are monitored to ensure they receive no more than 0.2 mSv in any three month period. This is 1500 times lower than the lowest single dose exposure known to cause temporary sterility.

    1 Sv = 1000 mSv
    1 millisievert (1 mSv = 0.001 Sv)
    1 microsievert (1 μSv = 0.000001 Sv)

  • What are the considerations when using radiation whilst pregnant?

    • The risk of ionizing radiation causing detriment to the foetus is higher than the risk to the worker.  The normal dose limit for a worker is therefore reduced during pregnancy.
    • The National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia’s leading support for health and medical research) and Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Federal Government agency governing radiation) recommend the same level of protection for the foetus as for a member of the public.  This dose of 1 mSv in a year is equivalent to a limit of 0.75 mSv to the abdomen during the pregnancy.
    • In practice the doses to workers in the University are normally well below 0.2 mSv per year and the risk to the foetus is very low.

    If a radiation worker becomes pregnant the following steps are to be taken:

    • Your doctor/obstetrician must be consulted regarding radiation work practices as soon as possible.
    • Licenced Supervisors should be informed of your pregnancy (speak with your doctor / obstetrician about the timing of this discussion).
    • A pregnant worker must re-evaluate her work practices and radiation exposure in order to minimise radiation exposure during pregnancy. This can be done by reviewing the risk assessment for the radiation tasks that you plan on undertaking during your pregnancy.
  • I'm a licensed radiation supervisor. What should I do if one of my workers informs me they are pregnant?

    • Review work practices together i.e. risk assessments and any Safe Operating Procedures.
    • Ask the individual what their doctor / obstetrician’s advice is.
    • Consult with the HSW Team. The University Radiation Safety Officer (URSO) advice will be sought if necessary.
  • What biological agents are pregnant women at risk from working with?

    The following can present extra hazards to pregnant women:

    • Toxoplasma gondii
    • Listeria monocytogenes
    • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
    • Parvovirus B19
    • Rubella  virus (German Measles)
    • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
    • Q fever (Coxiella burnetii)
    • Hepatitis Viruses
    • Varicella-zoster virus VZV (Chickenpox)

    Please see Examples of Safety Data Sheet Information for extra information.

    Note this is not an exhaustive list and hence workers should assess the risk of the biological material as a part of the hazard management procedure.

  • What do I do if someone in my workgroup has contracted German measles, chicken pox or shingles and I am pregnant?

    Discuss with your supervisor/doctor what the options are in your workgroup whilst the staff/student is in the infective period.

    Consult with your local HSW Team for more information.

  • What do I need to consider with Manual Handling (Hazardous Manual Tasks) whilst being pregnant?

    Physical changes in new and expectant mothers:

    Significant physiological changes during and after pregnancy can increase the chances of occupational injury:

    • As the abdomen distends, the centre of gravity is moved forward.  This change in body shape can sometimes affect balance and limit the workers ability to work in awkward areas.
    • The exaggerated curve in the lower back can lead to discomfort from prolonged standing or sitting.  It may become increasingly difficult to perform manual handling tasks as abdominal size increases.
    • Muscles relax which can lead to increased chance of injury if overworking or overstretching.

    Guiding principles when assigning tasks to a new or expectant mother:

    • Task design should take account of the range of human dimensions and capabilities such as height, reach and weight. These parameters generally alter during the term of the pregnancy.  Manual handling tasks should therefore be reassessed and adapted to accommodate the changing requirements of the pregnant worker.
    •  Adapt work systems to accommodate the health / fitness status of the worker.
    • During pregnancy a staff member / student should not be obliged to perform physically hard work, such as lifting, pulling, pushing or carrying heavy objects, and operating foot pedals in standing position.  Especially during the last trimester it is better to limit these activities as much as possible.  If this is not reasonably practicable, consider not doing the task, if appropriate.
    • Where possible, workers themselves should be given some control over how their work is organised such that the hours, volume and pacing of their work is not excessive. The opportunity to make regular position changes is important.

    Fatigue and seating:

    • Fatigue from standing and other physical work has long been associated with problems of pregnancy.  Well-designed seating should be provided where possible and regular rest breaks encouraged.
    • Pregnant persons should avoid sitting or standing for longer than 4 hours or as comfortable.  In the last trimester of the pregnancy, stooping, squatting or kneeling more than once per hour is not recommended.

    Lifting:

    • The new or expectant mother should pay particular attention to lifting technique and wherever possible use a mechanical aid e.g. a trolley.  The additional size of her abdomen will prevent the worker from holding the load close to the body, and the additional weight of the pregnancy increases the load on the lumbar spine.  Where repetitive lifting or manual handling is unavoidable and the task cannot be feasibly redesigned, the task may need to be assigned to another worker, particularly in later stages of pregnancy.
    • Lifting heavy loads manually is to be avoided. Please consult with your medical practitioner if lifting loads is required during your pregnancy. More information can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/physicaldemands.html.

    Working with animals:

    • The new or expectant mother should consider the risks associated with working with animals. These risks around the restraining and unpredictability of animal behaviour which could result in a serious injury to the expectant mother and have an adverse effect on the foetus. These types of activities should be discussed with the medical practitioner prior to undertaking any work with animals.
  • What level of noise exposure should be avoided whilst being pregnant?

    During your pregnancy avoid occupational noise exposures over 85 decibels, if this is not possible then conduct a risk assessment on your task in consultation with your medical practitioner. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, during pregnancy you can wear hearing protection, however there is no protection to the foetus. Increased noise levels may still have the ability to damage the foetus hearing.

    Please refer to the HSW Handbook chapter – Noise and Sound safety management and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.

  • What do I need to consider regarding the excessive vibration during pregnancy?

    During your pregnancy avoid occupational activities involving vibrations-either high frequency vibrations or regular low frequency vibrations, e.g. off road driving, if this is not possible then seek advice from your medical practitioner.

  • What factors should be considered regarding the temperature of the environment and pregnancy?

    Pregnant workers are less tolerant of high temperatures. They are more prone to fainting and heat stress which can be dangerous for both the mother and foetus. Care should be taken when exposed to heat for prolonged periods.

  • What should I consider if I become pregnant and I work in a hazardous environment? e.g. laboratory, field work etc?

    • Seek medical advice if you are concerned specifically about your proposed work schedule.  Consider taking procedures and SDSs with you to the doctor if you think it would assist the conversation.
    • If you have any problems do not hesitate to consult your doctor / obstetrician.
    • There is no requirement for you to tell your supervisor you are pregnant, however it is beneficial to discuss your proposed work schedule for the 9 months of your pregnancy with your supervisor.  Contact your local HSW Team if you require assistance with this discussion.
    • Are there any experiments involving risk factors planned?  Consider if they can be delayed until after the first trimester or for the duration of the pregnancy?
    • Consider alternative work schedules e.g. Do you have any papers to write or grants to apply for?  That you may need to work on during the critical first trimester.
    • In consultation with your supervisor(s), is there another worker in your laboratory who is able to help during your experiment(s) with the step(s) that require the chemical that may be toxic to reproduction?
    • Do you have a risk assessment and Safe Operating Procedure for all the tasks you are going to conduct?  Reassess the tasks you will conduct over the pregnancy period, as pregnancy may not have been considered when the documents were written. Are there any additional controls that can be put in place?
    • If you have an incident where you are exposed to a substance/chemical/radiation seek medical advice immediately and report it in UniSafe.
  • What do I do if I am a supervisor and my staff member/student has informed me they are pregnant?

    • You need to consider confidentiality of that conversation.
    • Consider the tasks and processes that are given to the worker.
    • Review the risk assessment and Safe Operating Procedures in consultation with the workers for the activities within your area.
    • Be aware of the information and responsibilities in the Fair Treatment Procedure in regard to pregnant/potentially pregnant workers.
    • Contact Human Resources or the central HSW Team for more information if you are unsure on what to do.
  • What are additional controls that can be considered when conducting a risk assessment?

    Using the hierarchy of controls is the process to eliminate or where this is not possible, manage the risks to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

      1. Elimination – Can the task or chemical be eliminated?
      2. Substitution - Is there another task or chemical that can be used? Can a liquid instead of a powder be purchased?
      3. Isolation / Engineering – Can the fume cupboard be used? Can a new piece of equipment be used?
      4. Administration – Review all risk assessments and Safe Operating Procedures that will be conducted over the next 9 months of your pregnancy. Are there any additional controls that can be included that were not considered when the documents were originally written?
      5. Personal Protective Equipment – Consider wearing two pairs of gloves or long cuff gloves, safety glasses, face
        shield, laboratory coat.

    Note: any of these controls can be used by any staff/student, you do not have to be considering pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding to consider these controls these are just ideas.

    Carefully planning your experiments over the next 9 months can be an important step in hazard management process whilst pregnant.

    There may be no changes that need to be made to your processes.

    Consult the Hazard Management Handbook chapter  for more information.

  • What arrangements need to be put in place if advised by my medical practitioner that it is inadvisable to continue my current duties?

  • Where do I obtain additional information on Reproductive toxicity?

    If you require further information, please contact a member of the local HSW Team.

Further information

Please contact your local HSW Team.