Researchers from Loughborough University and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trusts surveyed more than 400 clinicians and found that masks, visors, gloves and glasses in particular were creating problems for female staff members.
Hospital workers reported PPE-related injuries for skin breakdown from wearing masks, as well as overheating and dehydration from wearing multiple layers of gowns and aprons.
More than 33,000 people, including 300 health and social care staff, died in the UK during the first COVID-19 wave – between April and May, 2020.
Professor Sue Hignett, of the Loughborough Design School, who led the study, said: “Even with the intense demands on clinical staff during this period we received responses from over 400 clinicians, and importantly from 292 women (72%) which is representative of 70% NHS workforce.
“Women reported significantly more difficulty with communication than men when wearing surgical masks and visors.
“They told us, “Apparently masks for smaller faces don’t exist!”.
“We also found significant differences for women in the fit of safety glasses – including over prescription glasses.
“Other issues for both women and men included problems in operating clinical equipment due to double gloves, such as sutures, central line insertion, as well as using touch screens to record information and change drug doses.”
Prof Hignett added that NHS staff should be supported to tackle infections in the same way firefighters are protected against occupational hazards.
She said: “Firefighters have special training for working in PPE and are trained to managed fatigue and overheating.
“Our NHS staff do not seem to have been supported in this way and I am really worried that they have suffered avoidable occupational injuries.
“There needs to be Human Factors/Ergonomics research to design better PPE for our NHS staff.”
Read the full report, published in the journal Anaesthesia: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/anae.15198