When heightism is deadly: PPE putting petite female healthcare workers at risk

I haven’t posted much to this blog since the start of the COVID19 crisis. Like most of you, I’ve retreated into my bubble of panic and loss during these unprecedented events. We’ve been struggling with job losses, income losses, health issues, and deep anxiety and despair about the future. Yes, it’s likely that mass retailer bankruptcy and the loss of cross-border shopping will be disastrous for us Canadian petites trying to find clothing that fits after this is over. But quite frankly, shopping for clothes has been the last thing on my mind.

But an article in the Guardian caught my attention this week and I felt the need to post about it. It highlights how, just like nearly everything else in the world including cars, desks or airline seats, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers is designed for men. More specifically, for tall, burly, 6’3″ men. And this is a serious problem for petite female workers on the front lines of this crisis:

“Women’s lives are absolutely being put at risk because of ill-fitting PPE. We know that properly fitted PPE works, but masks are designed for a male template, with the irony being that 75% of workers in the NHS are female.”

This is more than merely an inconvenience. Masks that don’t fit smaller female faces won’t form a seal, putting women at increased risk of infection. Too-long gowns drag on the floor, causing tripping hazards. Sleeves must be rolled up causing cross-contamination, and facial protective equipment leaves women barely able to see. The smaller or shorter a healthcare worker is, the worse the problem is.

Given that 75% of frontline healthcare workers are women, you might think that female bodies would be better taken into account when designing such equipment. But nope. This is yet another egregious example of how the world’s focus exclusively on tall men puts women’s lives at risk. And here we are, in the midst of the biggest healthcare crisis of the century. Factories around the world are mobilizing to address severe shortages in every kind of PPE, from masks to face shields to gowns. And yet, there is almost zero effort being made to ensure that this gear will actually fit and protect the workers it is designed to help.

Ill-fitting clothing is merely uncomfortable or unflattering. Ill-fitting protective equipment is deadly. The COVID19 virus is sadly claiming far too many lives; we can’t allow sexism and heightism to claim more than necessary.



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