Objectives The WHAT-ME study (Women’s health in apprenticeship trades- metalworkers and electricians) was established because of concerns about risk to the fetus of women welding in pregnancy.
Methods Women in registered apprenticeships since 2005 in welding, boiler-making, steam fitting/pipefitting (‘welders’) or electrical trades are invited to join the study. They complete questionnaires on health and exposure at baseline and subsequently every six months. All new pregnancies are followed for exposure and outcome.
Results To date 496 women have signed up, with 63 new pregnancies notified by study members: recruitment is now underway across Canada. The results here are from 385 early recruits (mean age 31.6 years) and we consider only first pregnancies from the baseline questionnaire. We know of 174 first pregnancies (90 welders; 84 electricians): 3 welders chose not to give this information. Elective abortion was frequent, particularly in welders: 64 welders and 66 electricians continued the pregnancy. Spontaneous abortion rates were similar (welders 12/64; electricians 16/66). Only 25 welders and 11 electricians were working in their trade at the start of their first pregnancy and elected not to terminate it. Among these, spontaneous abortion rates were 40% (10/25) for welders and 18% (2/11) for electricians. In a logistic regression allowing for age and cumulative months in the trade at conception, the risk of miscarriage for welders in their trade was raised (OR = 3.51 95% CI 1.19–10.37). No marked effect was seen on live birth weight (welders 7.25 lbs; electricians 7.43 lbs) but infertility >12 months was more likely to be reported by welders: 11/201 welders and 3/184 electricians were working in their trade at the start of a period of infertility (X2 = 4.05 p = 0.04)
Conclusions Early data from WHAT-ME are consistent with some reproductive hazard to welders. The cohort’s increasing size and prospective data collection will serve to confirm or refute these results.
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