News Online: New U of A study looks at health risks for women in the trades

Published online at on March 28, 2011.

Linda Hoang, Global News: Monday, March 28, 2011

New U of A study looks at health risks for women in the trades

Researchers at the University of Alberta want to find out if women who work in the trades are exposed to greater health risks than men — including whether there are any reproductive problems.

It’s a new study that some say, is long overdue, especially in Alberta.

“Alberta has more prominence (with women in trades) than any other province in Canada,” said lead researcher Dr. Nicola Cherry.

“That’s why it was Alberta that was approached to do this study. If we are going to continue to develop in areas that need tradespeople, we need to have safe working conditions for them.”

There are more than 2,000 women in the trades in the province, a fairly high number that’s been a growing trend.

Many women have and continue to become welders or electricians, job posts which have traditionally been held by men.

Cherry says little is currently known about health risks women may face when entering these trades and her project is meant to fill that knowledge gap.

The study will look at whether the amount of nickel that trades women are exposed to will affect their skin, whether there are any muscular or skeletal problems associated with the physical demands of the job, and whether working in the trades could affect women’s pregnancy.

“There have been a number of studies that have shown men have fertility problems if they work as welders,” Cherry said.

“Nobody really has looked at women to see if they’ve had reproductive problems from these jobs. We need to know.”

For welder Laura Picciuto, who left the corporate world in order to become a welder, the results from Cherry’s study could make or break her decision to stay in the industry.

“It would probably make me retire a lot sooner, if I knew the side effects,” Picciuto said.

“I’m glad that they’re finally doing something like this.”

Welder Danielle Ferguson agrees, and says it’s been a long time coming.

“Something like this should have been in place years ago,” Ferguson said.

And while the trades boom has for the most part died down, Cherry says results from the study should help ensure a safer workplace for both men and women — once the boom comes around again.

“We’ll have the information they need to help them work safely,” Cherry said.

The study will follow women over a two-year period and could be expanded to include tradeswoman in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec.

Click for more information on the women in trades research study.

With files from Carole Anne Guay

Click here to read the article on the Global Edmonton website.

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