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
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.
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.
Congratulations to Dr Alan Richardson and the occupational team (Associate Professor Peter Watt, Dr. Mark Hayes and Emily Watkins) of the Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) who recently secured funding to support their research investigating firefighter and instructor health.
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.