Yes that’s right, it’s your favourite time again: PPE TIME!!!!
As I said, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking into why so many women are reporting difficulties with their PPE fit and in particular, mask fit. Most of the available research is based on self-reports, and there is nothing wrong with that per se; self-report can be crucial to identifying unforeseen data gaps and design flaws. But if you want to *fix* things, you need a bit more than that. You need to know why this is proving a problem. And to know that I needed data. Specifically, I needed to know what the standard specs are for face masks and what datasets were used to determine those size specs.
This is where I ran into difficulty. I contacted several manufacturers, only one of whom replied. That manufacturer pointed me towards specifications that had nothing to say about size, only filtration. When I replied, pointing this out, they again pointed me towards an EU body. While a manufacturer could be forgiven for not knowing the data on which the specs of their product are based on, it does seem odd for them to be unable to provide me with the size specs themselves. Still, I will carry on asking,
I also spoke to several international bodies on the track of any datasets used to determine sizing specs. I have struggled to get an answer. Some bodies have simply not responded. Others have responded but been vague. One dataset I have managed to get my hands on is male dominated, and when I asked how this data was used, I was informed that it was not sex-disaggregated. So, a hint. But more digging is required.
But the fact that getting the answer to a really very basic question has proven so tricky is in itself suggestive. Part of it is probably wariness from manufacturers and regulators who think I’m a mean campaigning journalist out to get them (not entirely unfair, but in this instance I really just want the data!).
But perhaps part of it is that there just isn’t an easy and straightforward answer. Perhaps, again, products that we might like to think are the result of stringent and careful design are in fact based more on a questionable (but unquestioned) historical default. The way we’ve always done things. Certainly one researcher I spoke to pointed out a tendency for certain standards to be the product of one decades-old paper that has been cited ever since.
Which brings me to a project I would love to see brought into life. In the course of my research I’ve been lucky enough to come across a varied range of brilliant people doing brilliant and important data research. And so much of that research could be of so much use to so many different disciplines. But that research is often stuck in narrow disciplinary silos. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if it weren’t?
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we had a wikipedia of design standards? So for any product you care to think of, there was one place to go where you could find both the regulatory standards AND the datasets used to arrive at those standards? It would be so useful for determining where the data gaps are – but also it could be a depository for all those currently siloed datasets. What I’m proposing here, is a democratisation of data, both so we can identify the gaps, but also so that we can fill the gaps where the data already exists, only it has been hidden, gathering dust in a university department where no one has thought to look. Perhaps, even, there aren’t as many data gaps as we think there are.
This is by no means a full-formed thought, more a brain-fart. But it’s a brain fart I’d love to see, um, come to fruition? Anyone who wants to turn this brain-fart into a…er…butterfly for/with (but preferably for 🤪) me, please do get in touch!
In the meantime, I can say that one rather exciting thing has come out of my great PPE research trawl, and that is that I’ve been able to connect some of the people I’ve been speaking to with each other. And I’m extremely excited to see what comes out of those connections.