So It has been a hell of a last 18 months and it is difficult to process the magnitude of what we have experienced in the wake of the pandemic. However, as we are days away from the opening of the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Olympic Games, as all good practitioners should do, I thought it was worth reflecting on what the Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL)’s contribution has been to helping our athletes, coaches, practitioners, officials, governing bodies and many others along the way, as they step up and face the heat of Tokyo.
These last eighteen months or so have made us rethink how we teach environmental physiology here at the University of Brighton as we have had to navigate the impact the pandemic was having on delivery. A previous blog post reinforced that we were still going strong, but had to move outside to investigate rewarming techniques post accidental hypothermia experimentally, as part of our Expedition Physiology 3rd year module. Fortunately, the weather was cold and allowed for students to experience what it is like to try and re-warm in the field! However, it was not always easy with multiple lockdowns and restrictions, we had to get creative! This blog post shares and reflects on some of our experiences so that it might help others in the future should you be prevented from teaching and your students learning in the way you/they are used to.
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
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!).
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.
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.
Welcome to Ash Willmott who joins our sport and exercise science lecturing team for the next 6 months. As many will know, Ash has been with us for some years now, first as an undergraduate BSc Sport and Exercise Science Student (1st class), then as a PhD student (which he finished, successfully defended and will graduate on the 16th February 2018) and also as a Sport and Exercise Science Support Officer within the Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU, 2014-2017). During his time here, he has made a huge difference to so many parts of our environmental extremes provision. He was instrumental in the success of the CAERvest, while we worked with Bodychillz Ltd. and will keep working with them as we continue this relationship. He has also been involved in supporting a number of other industrial partners while working with SESCU testing their products (all legal!). On the research front allied to thermal physiology, he has been a key member of the team for several years and we are now reaping the rewards following all those hours in the labs, with several papers published recently and few more on the way around the theme of heat acclimation.
Dr. Neil Maxwell and Dr Oli Gibson (now Brunel University) were featured on the front page of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) autumn issue of the Sport and Exercise Scientist magazine for having contributed. Led by Dr Jo Corbett of Portsmouth University and working in a team with Professor Neil Walsh (Bangor University) and Dr Caroline Sunderland (Nottingham Trent University), EEL’s Dr Oli Gibson and Dr Neil Maxwell met the team at the University of Portsmouth to work on the expert statement.
Congratulations to Professor Nick Webborn OBE who for the second time has been named in the Shaw Trust Power 100 list. The list is a celebration of Britain’s most influential persons with a disability or impairment. The Chief Executive of the Shaw Trust, who sponsor the Power 100 list said ‘this list plays a vital role in providing much needed encouragement to the young and talented leaders of tomorrow, allowing them to see that aspirations and ambition can be fulfilled regardless of disability or impairment.
Dr Neil Maxwell and Rebecca Relf (Technical Instructor and PhD Student) were invited to present to a House of Lords Government Select Committee on Breast Cancer Symptom Management in November, to talk about their up-coming research linked to heat sensitivity amongst breast cancer survivors. Following breast cancer, survivors experience intense heat reactions (hot flashes) and night sweats similar to symptoms associated with menopause that can be very debilitating and impact quality of life. In addition to pharmaceutically-based interventions to treat these symptoms, there is interest in non-pharmaceutically based methods. However, current methods have shown variable success. After hearing about the research coming out of the University of Brighton linked to applied heat-alleviation methods, the committee were keen to learn whether cooling interventions could be potential candidates to recommend post treatment.