Cutting Corners on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The No Safety No Work Campaign accepts that some workers have to be in a workplace. They cannot work remotely and their work is essential. Health workers are a case in point. Patients cannot be cared for over Zoom and very sick people have to be cared for in a hospital. The very least that we can do to help health workers do their jobs safely is to provide them with appropriate PPE.

About three-quarters of the workers on the NHS payroll are women. The British Medical Journal (BMJ), among others, has pointed out that the PPE used by the NHS was designed for men. Female staff say that goggles slip, gowns are too long, face shields push against breasts, and respirators don’t fit their faces. Moreover, the PPE in use was designed with the average, white man in mind. Consequently, BAME women often fail “fit tests” on two counts. They are forced to choose between sharing powered respirators or wearing PPE that does not fit and allows the virus to get through. With NHS managers and Human Resources targeting nurses who raise their heads above the parapet, very few feel brave enough to refuse to work, especially when staff levels are so low and patient demand is so high. An investigation needs to be carried out to establish whether inadequate PPE contributed to staff illness and death from Covid. We are also getting reports from NHS staff that the process for reporting incidents, like the lack of, or inadequate, PPE is so complex that many incidents go unreported.

Health workers need PPE that fits. Personalised PPE would be more expensive to produce but the technology to do so is available. 3D printing is already being used to develop personalised respirators from facial scans. We will be living with the pandemic for some time to come and health workers will continue to be at unnecessary risk of infection and death unless they are provided with personalised PPE. If the government can hand over up to £1000+ a day to Test and Trace consultants, then they can afford to pay for personalised PPE.

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