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 

 

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).

2017-18 Academic year – Round up

As the heat wave descends and the EEL team gravitate towards the beach, we would like to round up on what we consider as another successful year for the research lab.

This year we have produced fifteen peer reviewed publications, ranging from heat acclimation performance through to alleviating heat stress in the elderly and fire personnel.

The team have presented at five conferences including ICEE in Kobe Japan and staff have presented twelve invited talks including FireFit, British Science Festival, UK Home Office, EIS Tokyo Heat Workshop and UK Fire R&D.

 

 

 

 

 

We have written eleven funding applications of which four have been successful in recieving funding. The team have produced three commissioned reports for the English Institute of Sport, BASES and the Fire Brigades Union. We have had one PhD completion by Ash Willmott and hope to have a few more in 2018/19.

We also continue to work on research consultancy projects with Fire Brigades Union, UK Fire R&D, East Sussex Fire & Rescue, KuduSmart, Para-Monte and Cosinuss. While the consultancy team have helped support a number of athletes going to Marathon de Sables, Machu Picchu Peru, Aconcagua Chile, MdS Peru and the Coastal Challenge Costa Rica.

 

 

Practical Pre-Cooling Methods for PPE wearers

Research by Emily Watkins into practical pre-cooling methods for PPE wearers during severe heat exposure was published in Applied Ergonomics today (15/2/18). Pre-cooling is a method used to reduce core temperature, heart rate, and the sensation of being hot when individuals are exposed to hot environments. The aim is to reduce core temperature before the heat exposure, meaning an individual will stay at a safe core temperature for longer. In our previous study “Fire Service Instructors’ Working Practices: A UK Survey” it was indicated that few instructors used pre-cooling and those that did were using a variety of methods. This study aimed to assess three practical pre-cooling methods currently being used by instructors, to identify which method is the most beneficial in terms of reducing physiological and perceptual strain experienced from a heat exposure. Inflammatory responses were also investigated, as they can be markers of an increased risk of a cardiovascular event. The pre-cooling methods used were ice slurry consumption, phase change vest, and forearm cooling.

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