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Reevaluating Standards through PPE: The First Step

Reevaluating Standards through PPE:

The First Step

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) conceived with a “standardized male”‘ default puts women healthcare workers in danger. Unresponsively designed PPE presents hazards in other industries where women require properly fitting PPE to be safe, perform with excellence, and thrive in the workplace.

That is why we are launching our

PPE Survey:

https://bit.ly/PPEquestions

to see what can and must be improved.

What we know about PPE

    • PPE is designed based on a “standardized male default”

    • It’s called unisex, but it does not fit women

    • In the UK women make up 77% of the NHS → NHS data from 2018 1

    • Globally women make of 70 % of the global healthcare workforce 2

    • Properly fitting PPE is essential to properly keep healthcare workers safe

    • Masks need to create seal around the face to properly protect healthcare workers from airborne particles → if a mask is too big it is dangerous because it puts the healthcare worker at risk of contracting infection.

What we know about PPE during COVID-19

    • There are PPE shortages all around the world 4

    • Shortages could decrease an already limited amount of PPE in different sizes

    • Women healthcare workers may be more at risk of contracting coronavirus due to ill-fitting PPE

    • The PPE situation of size and fit is only one glaring example of defaults so normalized we don’t even notice and the structural inequalities that women face

    • The COVID-19 pandemic is a critical turning point for gender inclusivity in PPE, and in general for attitudes towards our essential workers and care personnel.

Why are we basing our survey on the 2016 “Women’s PPE: One size does not fit all”? 6

    • It is one of the only existing surveys on PPE

    • It has much data surrounding PPE and fit and availability

    • It focuses on women and PPE, as women are 77% of the workforce yet wear protective equipment designed to protect a subset, the ‘standardized male’ who only represent 29% of the healthcare workforce. PPE should be inclusive and fit all.

What we hope to find through our survey

    • Make known the day-to-day needs of women especially those in most need of attention → healthcare workers

    • What if anything has changed since 2016

    • How and where to re-examine PPE standards and protection laws with gender and women’s needs in mind

    • How best to catalyse lasting institutional change so that the situation does not remain the same

Women make up 77% of the UK National Health Service, 8,9 however most PPE that is accessible has not been designed for women or for diversity. This results in PPE that rarely properly fits women. This is a danger. Fit is an essential ingredient to proper protection, which can be a matter of life and death when PPE is a workplace requirement.

If a face mask is too big it prevents the mask creating a seal on a healthcare worker’s face, potentially allowing respiratory particles to enter and infect the worker.10 In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are urgently reminded that PPE is essential to the safety of all.11 We are at a critical turning point of awareness and cannot turn away.

In order to profile this increasingly urgent debate and place this item firmly on the agenda in order to catalyse systems change, Women at the Table is recreating the excellent 2016 survey conducted by Prospect, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), the TUC and Institution of Mechanical Engineers Support Network. The 2016 survey gave some of the first fundamental and detailed insights into women and PPE and its availability.

We hope to add on to and update the existing quantitative and qualitative data to see what if anything has changed. We believe structural inequalities that women face can, in this instance, be articulated explicitly through the data. We will begin this process by re-examining PPE standards starting with the PPE Survey. The data will be used for advocacy to help galvanize change to the systems that create, update and regulate standards, policy and law so that all people can thrive in the workplace and in their homes.

Take the survey, or share with a colleague or association that depends on PPE to be safe, excellent in their work and thrive:

https://bit.ly/PPEquestions

1 NHS Digital, Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS) workforce statistics: Equality and Diversity in NHS Trusts and CCGs in England, September 2018 - Experimental Statistics. Gender - Source Data

https://www.nhsemployers.org/-/media/Employers/Images/2018-D-and-I-infographics/Gender-in-the-NHS-2018.pdf

2 WHO, Delivered by Women, Led by Men: A Gender and Equity Analysis of the Global Health and Social Workforce, 2019

3 Health and Safety Executive, Guidance on Respiratory Protective Equipment Fit Testing, March 2019

4 Nick Triggle, “Coronavirus: What Has Gone Wrong with PPE?”, BBC, April 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-52388684

5 Carlie Porterfield, “A Lot of PPE Doesn’t Fit Women - And In The Coronavirus Pandemic It Puts Them in Danger.” Forbes, April 2020

6 Prospect, Women’s Personal Protective Equipment: One Size Does Not Fit All, 2016 https://library.prospect.org.uk//download/2016/01299

7 Women make up 77% of the NHS workforce. The 2016 “Women’s PPE: One size does not fit all” survey found that only 29% of women were wearing PPE specifically designed for women.

NHS Digital, Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS) workforce statistics: Equality and Diversity in NHS Trusts and CCGs in England, September 2018 - Experimental Statistics. Gender - Source Data

https://www.nhsemployers.org/-/media/Employers/Images/2018-D-and-I-infographics/Gender-in-the-NHS-2018.pdf

Prospect, Women’s Personal Protective Equipment: One Size Does Not Fit All, 2016

https://library.prospect.org.uk//download/2016/01299

8 NHS Digital, Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS) workforce statistics: Equality and Diversity in NHS Trusts and CCGs in England, September 2018 - Experimental Statistics. Gender - Source Data

https://www.nhsemployers.org/-/media/Employers/Images/2018-D-and-I-infographics/Gender-in-the-NHS-2018.pdf

9 Globally, women make up 70% of the health care workforce.

WHO, Delivered by Women, Led by Men: A Gender and Equity Analysis of the Global Health and Social Workforce, 2019

https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311322/9789241515467-eng.pdf

10 Health and Safety Executive, Guidance on Respiratory Protective Equipment Fit Testing, March 2019

11 Women may be more at risk of contracting the coronavirus due to ill-fitting PPE. Carlie Porterfield, “A Lot of PPE Doesn’t Fit Women - And In The Coronavirus Pandemic It Puts Them in Danger.” Forbes, April 2020

12 Prospect, Women’s Personal Protective Equipment: One Size Does Not Fit All, 2016 https://library.prospect.org.uk//download/2016/01299

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