PPE fit of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

D. J. Janson, B. C. Clift, V. Dhokia

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Historically, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has generally been designed around the size and shape of an average European or US white man's face and body. There is little academic evidence to support anecdotal reports that women are at a greater disadvantage than men from ill-fitting PPE. This is especially relevant in healthcare settings where women make up at least 75% of frontline workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated problems associated with the fit of PPE that until now have been mainly anecdotal. This research presents results and analysis of a quantitative and qualitative survey concerning the fit of PPE worn by 248 healthcare workers, in a variety of healthcare roles and settings, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis of the survey results showed that women were less likely than men to feel safe carrying out their roles, with only 30.5% of women and 53.3% of men stating that they felt safe all of the time. A statistically significant link is made between women suffering more with poor fit than men with certain categories of PPE (gowns, masks, visors, goggles). Over four times as many women (54.8%) as men (13.3%) reported their surgical gowns being large to some degree and women were nearly twice as likely (53.5%) to experience oversized surgical masks than men (28.6%). However, it was recognized that PPE fit problems are not exclusive to women as many men also do not conform to the underlying shape and size of PPE designs. Survey results indicated that both sexes felt equally hampered due to the fit of their PPE and around a third of both women and men had modified their PPE to address fit issues. Oversized and modified PPE presents its own set of unintended consequences. Following strict processes for doffing and removing PPE is key to virus control but doffing modified PPE can fall outside of these processes, risking cross infection. In addition, wearers of critical items of PPE (such as respirators) currently undergo a “fit test”; however, fit does not reconcile with comfort and over-tightened PPE can cause headaches, discomfort and distraction when worn for long periods. Requirements and fit tests are also not setting-specific; qualitative responses from the survey give an indication that this must be a future consideration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103610
JournalApplied Ergonomics
Early online date15 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
EPSRC Grant number EP/R513155/1 . The authors also acknowledge the guidance of Professor Stephen Newman, Alan Metherall (AWP NHS Trust), the Statistics Advisory Service and the Centre for Qualitative Research, both at University of Bath for their contribution towards statistical analysis. Conflicts of interest: none.


  • COVID-19
  • Fit
  • Heathcare workers
  • Masks
  • Pandemic
  • Personal protective equipment
  • PPE
  • Respirators
  • Safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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