Improving PPE for women health workers earns University of Bath senior lecturer top award

July 8, 2021

A University of Bath senior lecturer has been recognised as one of the UK’s top 50 women in engineering for her work on improving personal protective equipment for women – an issue brought into sharp focus by the Covid pandemic.

Debbie Janson’s Women’s Engineering Society award highlights her research at the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering on improving safety footwear for women, her study of gender and sex differences in personal protective equipment (PPE) and design inadequacies across the PPE industry. 

Debbie, pictured below, was motivated to carry out research in the area after facing similar issues in her 20-year career in industry.

She said: “Frustrated by the ill-fitting safety footwear I was made to wear, I returned to the university in 2018 determined to try to resolve these critical problems.

“PPE is traditionally designed around a standard European or US man’s form. This poses a lot of problems, not only for women, but for men who are not of average build – we all have different face and body shapes.”

The issue of ill-fitting PPE became crucial during the pandemic, particularly as women account for 70% of all NHS staff and 89% of nurses on the front line.

“Not only are there shortages of PPE, but when the PPE is supplied, people are struggling to get it to actually fit,” Debbie added.

“Often they have to overtighten the PPE, causing bruising and discomfort, or it’s hindering their ability to do their job properly because they are struggling with oversize gowns or aprons.” 

She acknowledged the challenges of designing and supplying PPE but said the industry needed to implement rapid change.

“We have to have a baseline – but it has always been based on a man. Fortunately, women are becoming more prepared to stand up and say their PPE is uncomfortable or obstructive and I hope management and suppliers will respond to this,” she said.

Debbie now  hopes her recognition by the Women in Engineering Society award will inspire young women to enter the engineering sector.

“I was the first in my family to go to university and I know how important role models are for young people,” she said.

“I am humbled to have been named alongside the top 50 women in engineering in 2021 and hope it may bring a higher profile to this serious issue,” she said.


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