What is a Reproductive Hazard?
A hazard is an agent that has potential to cause harm to a person. A‘reproductive’ hazard is therefore an agent that can adversely affect the reproductive health of women and men and/or that can negatively impact the growth and development of a fetus. Examples of reproductive problems linked to hazardous agents include: reduced fertility, by harming
sperm or ova; a miscarriage, if an embryo is damaged (toxic agents can be transferred by sperm); or disruption of the complex hormonal pathways (eg. reduced testosterone levels).
Hazardous agents are present in both non-occupational and occupational settings. Examples include cigarette smoke, x-rays and car exhaust.
The Man’s Role in Reproduction
Because the emphasis of a healthy pregnancy traditionally focuses on the woman’s role, the potential for problems resulting from the man’s exposure to a reproductive hazard is often overlooked or unknown. On the basis of current understanding, reproductive health problems in men are thought to occur via five main mechanisms:
1. Changes in the genetic make-up of the sperm
2. Hormonal changes (example, reduced testosterone levels)
3. Decreases in sperm numbers
4. Changes in the shape of the sperm or its ability to move
5. Difficulty achieving an erection (i.e. erectile dysfunction)
Exposure to reproductive hazards in the workplace such as vibration, heat, certain chemicals and metals (i.e. particulate matter, arsenic, lead), and even scheduling and/or occupational stress, can impact male reproductive function through one or more of these mechanisms, thereby preventing or inhibiting conception and therefore successful pregnancy and/or by disrupting normal sexual practices. It is therefore important for men to have access to information about potential workplace hazards and actions they can implement to maintain and/or improve their reproductive health.