‘One Size Fits all’ Approach Dangerous when it Comes to PPE

The discussion around PPE-wearing has been a talking point since the COVID-19 pandemic started. And now researchers allege masks and other essential medical PPE don’t always fit frontline workers appropriately, particularly adult women or Asian descent people.

Fit is a crucial element to the efficiency of PPE. The fit will also have an impact on comfort, and this, in turn, will impact compliance levels. Any human – male or female, will be discontented about wearing something uncomfortable. Worse still, ill-fitting equipment can increase safety risks and cause physical and even mental ill-health.

Overalls, trousers, face masks, or gloves that are too long or big can create tripping, entanglement, and contamination risks. As legs/sleeves are rolled, taped, or even tied up: “I stuffed cotton in the fingers, put tape at the wrist, and tacked the top with staples to stop sparks from getting down the sleeve…” revealed an anonymous participant in the research.

A successful safety program will address each situation independently and treat individuals inside the safety program uniquely depending on their job function and exposure to a hazard. If it’s determined that a specific type is needed, companies need to address which one offers the most protection before buying it.

But a group of researchers at the University of Western Australia and Perth Children’s Hospital argue that the healthcare field specifically lacks the time and financial resources to ensure every worker has PPE that fits properly. The Co-author of the investigation, Professor Britta von Ungern-Sternberg, said an ill-fitting PPE could allow unfiltered air to be drawn inside.

And PPE, particularly face masks, do not fit women and those of Asian descent properly, the study found. The “fit-pass” rate for women is just 85% compared with 95% for men. And while masks fit 90% of caucasian workers properly, that figure drops to 84% for Asian people, and even lower at 60% for Asian females.

The respirator’s shape and size in relation to the wearer’s facial anthropomorphic dimensions were significant factors in terms of quality of fit, researchers said. However, the study has its limits. Females and Asians were under-represented, academics confessed.

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