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 Issues, https://www.whijournal.com/article/S1049-3867(18)30561-9/fulltext