Joint letter to British Safety Industry Federation on personal protective equipment for male and female users

28 May 2020

Dear Mr Murray,

On behalf of more than 500,000 nurses and doctors – who are working above and beyond in incredibly challenging environments to respond to COVID-19 – we are writing to you to highlight concerns around the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), which disproportionately does not fit female users.

Nurses and doctors are unwavering in their professionalism and dedication to protecting the health and wellbeing of us all in this time of worry and uncertainty. However, their safety and ability to care for patients is being fundamentally compromised by the lack of adequate and correct supplies of vital PPE. Our members are reporting that the specialist FFP3 masks do not securely fit smaller, often female face shapes.

Without properly fitting face protection, female staff are putting themselves at risk. This is despite 89% of the UK nursing workforce being female and 48% of doctors. They must not be forced to choose between their personal safety, and the safety of their families or their sense of duty to provide the very best care. One-size-fits-all protective equipment has been a problem for frontline healthcare workers who must wear this specialist life-saving equipment for up to 12 hours at a time.

A number of brands are not producing masks which fit female faces. The shape and design of the masks are too big, causing many female nurses and doctors to fail the FIT testing process.
There are patterns arising which suggest supplies of masks are being made and created for men; there is an emerging gender imbalance to the equipment being provided in terms of how
best it fits the face of the user, yet this has not been addressed reactively by industry.

All staff, in all settings, must have a supply of suitable and sufficient PPE that meets the required specifications.

While the primary duty to provide suitable and sufficient PPE lies with the employer, in the context of the pandemic and to future proof FFP3 provision in the longer term, we ask that industry review the design of PPE, including masks, to ensure that equipment supplied to nurses and doctors fits both male and female users. It is vital for the health and safety of female staff that there is a good selection of FFP3 masks suitable in fit for a predominantly female nursing workforce.

Yours sincerely,

Dame Donna Kinnair
RCN Chief Executive & General

Dr Chaand Nagpaul CBE
BMA Chair of Council

Page last updated - 10/07/2020