Women Firefighters’ International Survey

A recently published paper written by Dr Emily Watkins in Women’s Health Issues has received significant media interest around the world. The study aimed to identify specific health and well-being concerns of women firefighters. The survey was developed in collaboration with firefighter networks, in the UK this was in conjunction with the Women in the Fire Service organisation. There was also collaboration with Anthony Walker (Australia), Eric Mol (Netherlands) and Sara Jahnke (USA). In total 840 women from 14 countries completed the survey, the countries were grouped together into geographical locations.

Key highlights from the paper specific to UK and Ireland women firefighters included:

  • Around 20% report a musculoskeletal injury that they believe was caused by their job, this is similar to the rates of injury previously reported in males.
  • Around 12% report depression or PTSD linked to their job, this is similar to that previously reported in emergency services.
  • 5% report fertility issues that they believe are caused by their job.
  • 26% have suffered some form of heat related injury.
  • 20% reported that they were peri/menopausal, with 24% of those suggesting that it impacts them at work. This was through a variety of ways but most commonly due to hot flushes.
  • 60% of ladies who were not yet peri/menopausal were worried about how it may affect them in the future. This is much higher than the % concerned from other countries.
  • Only 16% were confident they could do their job at the age of 60yrs, with key concerns being meeting fitness standards (specifically strength related), the physical demands of the job, injuries they had suffered, and the impact the menopause may have.
  • Only 18% were provided with strength and conditioning support/training. This was much lower than the 44% in the USA and Canada.
  • 43% of UK&I ladies would like more support/guidance with fitness and training, with suggestions being: specific plans, strength training, and age/sex specific training.
  • 66% had access to female specific PPE. This is greater than access in other countries. However there were still concerns about the fit and quality of the PPE. Only 25% of American and Canadian firefighters had access to female specific kit.
  • Other concerns were: risk of cancer, fertility issues, returning to work after pregnancy & impact of the job on breastfeeding.

Overall the paper indicates the need for further research and education surrounding the impacts of the menopause and issues surrounding fertility and maternal health. The study also highlights the need for appropriate PPE for female firefighters (as this may be linked to risk of injuries) and the desire within the service for further support with regards to strength/training programmes to help ensure career longevity.

 

Paper Reference and Link:

Emily Watkins, Anthony Walker, Eric Mol, Sara Jahnke & Alan Richardson (2019). Women Firefighters’ Health and Well-Being: An International Survey. Women’s Health Issueshttps://www.whijournal.com/article/S1049-3867(18)30561-9/fulltext 

 

Student Expedition News: 15 Years and Going Strong!

Well done to our SI627 – Expedition Physiology – students for another successful expedition, marking the 15th consecutive year since Dr Neil Maxwell started the module and the annual trip in 2004. This year, again led by Dr Alan Richardson, saw us back in Brecon Beacons where we arguably had the most spectacular weather yet. Thirty students, with leaders Dr Alan Richardson, Dr Mark Hayes, Dr Nick Smeeton, Dr Neil Maxwell and Rebecca Relf took to the Black Mountain hills of Wales donned in a multitude of outdoor gear, albeit not with as much suncream as was needed (isn’t that right Frank and Charlotte!).

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MDS News: Environmental Extremes Lab Supports Josie Adams

This year some of our MSc Applied Sport/Exercise Physiology students (Serdar Hussein, Sarah Pickering, Niforissa Musa, Mari-Anne Elder, Adam Crook and Harrison Collier-Bain) helped support Josie Adams, ambassador to the Para-Monte altitude awareness charity that we work closely with, in her preparations for this year’s Marathon des Sables (MDS). As part of the Environmental Extremes Lab Service, led by PhD student Gregor Eichhorn, the MSc students delivered a 4 day heat acclimation package to prepare Josie for the harsh conditions expected in the MDS in Morocco. The MDS is a 250 km gruelling multi-day race across the Saharan desert which appeals to around 1000 competitors from all over the world each year. In 2017, Josie was 7th in the event and 1st British female, so we know she has it in her!

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University of Brighton Students Inform the English Institute of Sport Pre Tokyo 2020

On Wednesday 20th March, eighteen BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science students from the University of Brighton visited Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre to present their dissertation findings to practitioners of the English Institute of Sport (EIS) around optimising performance to the heat expected at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Co-Head of Physiology at the EIS, Dr Esme Matthew, said,

I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to you and your team for yesterday (and all the work that went into the poster session beforehand). I can’t tell you how valuable it was, and what a buzz the team got from spending time going round all the posters. The students were brilliant, very professional, and had clearly put a lot of thought and effort into their posters, you must be really proud of them all.

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Memorandum of Understanding between the English Institute of Sport and the University of Brighton up to Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Benefits our Students

On the 6th November 2018, Dr Neil Maxwell on behalf of the University of Brighton signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the English Institute of Sport (EIS) to signify a statement of intent to collaborate.  This MoU reflects the on-going support the Environmental Extremes Lab Team are providing the EIS and associated national teams as they prepare for the heat of Tokyo at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

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Environmental Extremes Lab represent Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Charity at World Extreme Medicine Conference

On Friday 23 November, Dr Neil Maxwell and Dr Mark Hayes attended the World Extreme Medicine Conference at the Dynamic Earth Convention Centre in Edinburgh on behalf of Para-Monte. The aim was to raise awareness about the work the charity does and the importance of educating individuals about altitude illnesses. A YouTube Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Video now exists which reflects the partnership between the Environmental Extremes Lab and Para-Monte.

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Upcoming Research Study Investigating Exercise-Heat Sensitivity in Female Breast Cancer Survivors vs. Age-Matched Females

We are currently recruiting female participants who have been diagnosed with breast cancer alongside healthy females (as a control group), aged 40-64 years, to take part in a research study that examines their responses to exercise in a hot environment. The study involves four visits with the exercise protocol requiring participants to walk on a treadmill in our environmental chamber. The research will take place at the Eastbourne Campus of the University of Brighton.

Rebecca Relf is conducting this research as part of her PhD studies, with Chanel Coppard, an MSc Applied Exercise Physiology student and Berenice Grimshaw, a BSc Sport and Exercise Science student, supporting her. The research team would like to speak to you if you are interested in getting involved and help improve our understanding of heat sensitivity in breast cancer survivors. Please see the recruitment poster below for details.

Environmental Extremes Lab Supports 94 Students this Year!

We have been a bit silent on the Environmental Extremes Lab Blog recently. In part, this has allowed us to recharge the batteries after a very busy last academic year. Nevertheless, plenty has been going on over the summer and early autumn months. We supported nine MSc research projects allied to environmental extremes, with some exciting results coming out of them to share in due course.  Dr Alan Richardson and Dr Mark Hayes were interviewed as experts for a Ministry of Defence Service Inquiry into the death of a soldier during an annual fitness test at Brecon in 2016. Mark  with Dr Ash Willmott presented to the GB Hockey team around pre and per cooling strategies leading up to Tokyo 2020.  We supported another two Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Days for individuals heading to altitude. Well done to our own University of Brighton’s Sally Reeve and her daughter, Marianne, who successfully and safely completed their trek to Machu Picchu, passing Dead Women’s Pass on the way.

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Environmental Extremes Lab Represented at PPTR 2018 Conference

Recently, marked the 7th International Conference on the Physiology and Pharmacology of Temperature Regulation (PPTR), held in the beautiful city of Split, Croatia. The Conference was held over the 7th to 12th October and consisted of oral and poster presentations, symposia and workshops – all with an environmental extremes focus. This year’s meeting had 170 presentations of which nearly half were presented by young investigators.

Four of our University of Brighton research students (Gregor Eichhorn, Kirsty Waldock, Rebecca Relf and Emily Watkins) and members of the EEL group flew to Croatia to attend the conference. While it is important for a PhD student to present their own work before a scientific community to disseminate their findings, it can also be very useful to exchange ideas for future research and collaborations and improve communication skills and knowledge.

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Elderly people during heatwaves

The Problem

The Met Office announced a level 3 heatwave warning earlier this week and today could be the hottest day on record. The EEL team discuss the increasing trend in hot summers here in the UK and provide readers with research informed advice on how to keep the elderly free of heat illness. The three previous summers have been the warmest on record, with 2018 expected to be the hottest ever recorded. Researchers predict that this global trend will see further increases in the frequency and the severity of heatwaves, like that experienced throughout Europe in 2003, where the UK had 2000 excess deaths related to the heat. The majority of heat-related deaths during heatwaves are within the elderly population, with up to 92% occurring in the over 65’s.

Part of the reason for the disproportionate amount of deaths in the elderly is due to an ageing society. Between 1951-2011 there was an 80% increase in the number of people aged over 65 years. By 2040 it is predicted that 1 in 7 people will be 75 years old or older.

Secondly, aging negatively changes the way the body maintains heat balance. Healthy older individuals rely on a much larger percentage of their heart rate reserve to increase stroke volume in order to redistribute blood flow to the skin and thereby dissipate internal heat. Therefore, the burden placed on the heart is greater for the elderly than young adults. Leading to most deaths during heatwaves occurring due to cardiovascular complications in the elderly population. This scenario is further exacerbated in older populations with underlying co-morbidities.

Older adults may further intensify the problem as they may not feel thirsty until they are dehydrated. Avoiding levels of dehydration can be seen as avoiding reductions in blood volume. Decreased blood volumes lead to low blood pressure which then results in individuals passing out and injuring themselves. Furthermore, some medications further contribute to dehydration.

Research from our lab has also shown that older individuals demonstrate a reduced perception of heat. This can potentially lead to a delayed behavioral response (i.e. taking of layers of clothing or seeking shade) and increase the risk of heat related illness.

 Be aware of the warning signs of heat illness

  • Profuse sweating, heat rashes and being thirsty alongside feeling weak are the first signs to look out for. In some cases were exertion is high you may experience muscle cramps.

  • Headaches, dizziness and feelings of nausea or actual sickness followed by severe fatigue can then develop, where the skin may be pale and cool to touch.

  • When heat stroke develops, people will look flushed, often have hot and dry skin as dehydration stops sweating and will appear confused.

  • Stopping sweating will cause your body temperature to become very high very quickly and with a more confused state over time, this indicates heat stroke has set in and medical attention is required urgently (Call 999).

The solution

Advice on how to enjoy the weather safely:

There are 6 key areas to consider when maintaining heat-related health.

  • Hydration: drink refrigerated water/juice regularly throughout the day even if you do not feel thirsty, eat foods high in water content, fruit and salads. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated and sugary drinks.
  • Indoor environment: the use of electric fans, keep windows open if safe to do so, keep curtains shut, It may be cooler outdoors in the shade than indoors. Take cool showers/baths or splash yourself with cool water
  • Outdoor environment: seek shade and cooler refuges when out and about. Try to avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm.
  • Clothing and protection: light and loose fitting clothes that allows for sweat evaporation. Apply sun screen and wear a hat when going outside in the heat.
  • Medication: have a medication check with your G.P. as many medication will impact thermoregulation and may need to be adjusted during periods of hot weather
  • Activity: keep activities of daily living to cooler parts of the day i.e. early morning late evening
  • Thermal Comfort: remember people above the age of ≥55 may not feel uncomfortable or dehydrated during periods of hot weather, so try to put in place the above strategies because the body could still be at risk of developing heat illness.

If you think someone might be suffering from a heat illness call NHS 111 for advice.

If you suspect heat stroke then cool patient immediately and seek urgent medical attention CALL 999

For further advice look up the public health England’s beat the heat campaign (click here).