Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine – 2011
A study now under way at the University of Alberta may shed light on how the health of women in metalworking and electrical trades is affected by exposure to metal fumes and dust.
The project, called “Women’s Health in Alberta Trades: Metalworking and Electricians,” is a collaboration among university researchers, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board, all of which are located in Edmonton.
The study population is women in the province who have taken apprenticeship training in trades over the last five years. “It would include a variety of different trades where welding is a significant component,” Dr. Jeremy Beach, a co-investigator and associate professor in the university’s Department of Medicine,
Community & Occupational Medicine Program, says of the study.
Dr. Beach notes that the stimulus for the project was concerns raised by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) about the risks faced by pregnant welders exposed to welding fume. “There have been a number of different health hazards,
but nobody’s looked in much detail about women as a group when they come into this trade.”
Metalworking jobs of interest include welders, boilermakers, ironworkers and blacksmiths, while electrical jobs include cable installers, power line technicians and construction/marine/plant electricians.
About 180 women, 10 of whom are pregnant, have been recruited for the study. Apart from reproductive health, the study will also explore issues surrounding respiratory health, skin problems, nickel sensitization and musculoskeletal problems, Dr. Beach says.
“This study was a long time in coming,” says Edmonton-based David Hisey, chair of the safety committee on welding, cutting and allied processes for the CSA. “The last thing we want to do is put women out of the workplace,” Hisey emphasizes. “We want to make sure we know the hazards that we are putting our kids into and if there’s more protection that needs to be provided for all workers.”
There was some initial concern the number of women in trades was so small “that you just couldn’t find out anything useful,” Dr. Beach reports. That has not been the case.
A shortage of tradespeople in Alberta has fuelled a move by more women to enter these trades over the last few years. “There has been definitely a noticeable increase in females in welding trades,” says Dan Tadic, a director of the Canadian
Welding Association in Milton, Ontario. He states that good pay is one factor feeding that interest.
Welding is widely used, including in construction, aerospace and electronics. “Just about anything that uses metal can and is usually welded,” Tadic says.
A 2008 study out of Finland observed 1,670 women who worked during pregnancy, four per cent of whom were exposed to either welding fume or metal dusts or fumes. Researchers found that exposure to welding fume or metal dusts during pregnancy may increase the risk of pre-term delivery and reduce
“It depends on how well you take care of yourself,” Gerald Bellehumeur, president of GRB College of Welding in Edmonton, says of welding’s effects on pregnant workers. “I see women in the trade for so many years. Women work until they are six or seven months pregnant,” Bellehumeur points out.
This need to have a report on ‘welding effects on female workers’ was a long time coming. The need to add women especially in the trades has been long time coming and necessary. The shortage of male trades persons drives the need to include women in the special fields. The one problem, however, is that many welding fumes are highly toxic and the need to protect the unborn child is paramount. The study should be able to show if the average workplace in Alberta is safe for the women, both short term and long term.
I wonder what the outcome was? Was there any, however minor, hazard to speak of? Is anyone at risk? When would be the right time for women to begin maternity leave? (4 months, 5 months etc.)
The study was a part of the 2011 calendar year. Many of the other provinces included studies long before the province of Alberta deemed it necessary.
Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.