Metalsmith ’83 Fall: Health Hazards Q&A’s

This article page is from a segment of the Metalsmith Magazine (1983 Fall), “Health Hazards”, discussing questions from readers and answers provided by Linda Weiss-Edwards herself.

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Dear Linda,

I wanted to write to ask if you knew where I could obtain information on working during pregnancy. I’ve been working full-time as a goldsmith for seven years and plan to start a family very soon. I do quite a bit of soldering during jewelry repairs and custom orders. I work only with gold and sterling silver and use ab. Six months ago I had an exhaust fan installed in the soldering area after persistent sore throats. I also wear a mask when I polish. If, along with the exhaust fan, I wore a mask to block fumes (is there one?) and gloves, would those precautions be safe? Also, should I switch to the Grifflux #1?

– Constance Wicklund Gildea

Dear Constance:

Your letter arrived at a very convenient time, as I have been investigating this particular matter myself. I am in the midst of my first pregnancy and in the midst of a significant holloware commission-as well as the continued responsibilities involved in the jewelry design and manufacturing business that I share with my husband.

Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on the effects of our type of working environment on the fetus. The important thing to remember is: Anything that will affect a normal healthy adult, will certainly affect the unborn child-and probably in a more dramatic way.

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I think your exhaust fan is a good precaution-as well as switching to Grifflux. There are two respirators that I use: American Optical Corporation Chemical Cartridge R53A, for organic vapors and metal fumes (I wear this when annealing and heating bronze or other metals that have harmful fumes) and American Optical Corporation Respirator R563, for acid, gas, fumes, mists and pesticides. I purchased these through Bullard Safety Equipment, Sacramento, CA; phone number (800) 852-7256. The salesman Roy Metcalf was very helpful. The manufacturer suggests that for these respirators to function efficiently, the filters should be replaced with new ones every eight hours of use. So, I recommend that you order replacement filters when you order the respirator.

At this time, I know of no reason to wear gloves during jewelry soldering procedures.

I also became concerned over the possible effect of noise stress (from metalsmithing processes) on the fetus. My doctors have assured me that the fetus doesn’t usually respond to noise until the fifth month. However, I could feel a very active baby much earlier than that-particularly if I went back to the studio to do some raising or forging in the evening. The doctors do not believe that the noise is harmful to the fetus.

Whether pregnant, or not, I do wear ear protection. Also, my husband devised a type of wide belt for my abdomen out of heavy sound-insulating material-and the fetal activity did decrease. I have, since the 16th week ceased to do any heavy forming because the belt and my abdomen combined became quite cumbersome to work around. But I have continued light forming-chasing, planishing or raising smaller objects in softer metals-with no dramatic changes in fetal activity.

The most dramatic response to the work came from the changes in my stamina. I was quite accustomed to many consecutive hours of metalsmithing with little, or no, fatigue or muscle soreness. However, I think those same hormones that make a woman’s muscles relax to accommodate the growing uterus and the birth experience affected the rest of my muscles, too-l was very fatigued, and extremely sore, and could not maintain my typical work schedule. (I might mention that before the pregnancy I was a typical California health and fitness fanatic, so I was very physically fit). I would qualify this with two notions: every woman’s body will react differently, and this effect of less stamina and sore muscles was much less obvious, almost nonexistent, in the second trimester.

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A good resource book on the subject of noise stress is The Fight for Quiet by Theodore Berland, published by Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1970. Chap­ ter 6 talks about the effects of noise on the fetus.

Another good general resource is Women’s Work, Women’s Health, Myths and Realities , by Jeanne Mager Stellman, published by Pantheon Books, NY, 1977. Chapter 3 is about “Health Hazards on the Job” and Chapter 4 deals specifically with “Work, Reproduction and Health.” The whole book is really pertinent to any working woman, pregnant or not. However, it should be noted that even the six-year time span, since it was published, can make a difference in the medical knowledge available. Chapter 3 stresses paying attention to posture and blood circulation for those who have sedentary jobs. These are two very important things for someone who is a bench jeweler to keep in mind, especially a pregnant woman. Sedentary jobs can compound a pregnant woman’s tendency towards back ailments, leg cramps, varicose veins and other conditions that occur from poor posture and circulation. Stellman’s chapter on “Work, Reproduction and Health” has some pertinent information on the “Effects of Selected Occupational Health Hazards on Male Reproduction.” This chapter makes an interesting point regarding the possible effects on fertility­ both male and female-of hazards encountered in the work environment.

Please be aware that once the child is born, the studio is not a safe place for an infant who still has a great deal of neuromuscular development to complete. Infants have hyper­ sensitive systems, and things that may not affect an adult, or may only mildly affect an adult, can have a dramatic effect on an infant or young child.

It has recently been brought to my attention that some readers are not aware that in addition to this column I have also had a complete technical paper published on health hazards in our metalworking. I recommend that you obtain a copy of this and familiarize yourself with all the possible ways to maintain your career within a healthy working environment. This paper and others are included in Metalsmith Papers of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, available from SNAG, 2849 St. Ann Drive, Green Bay, WI 54301 for $15, including postage.

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Special Note It has recently been mentioned in the Arts Hazards News that waxes dis­ solved during casting burnout can emit formaldehyde fumes. So be sure you do not work where you would be exposed to fumes from a burnout kiln.

Submit questions for this column (typewritten, double­ spaced) to Linda Weiss­ Edwards, P.O. Box 1032, Sausalito, CA 94966.

The author of this column assumes no liability for the processes, procedures and precautions recommended herein.

By Linda Weiss-Edwards
Metalsmith Magazine - 1983 Fall
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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