Universal Fall Harness
When you spend every day walking across steel beams and shaky scaffolding, fall protection is an indispensable element of your wardrobe. In the historically male-dominated construction industry, life-saving safety equipment has been designed for men, by men.
My all-female team set out to change that. We spent our final 10-week quarter of undergraduate Industrial Design developing a fall harness that serves the needs of a wider range of construction workers.
Our goal was to create a truly universal product that would serve the unmet needs of women on construction sites, improve safety for all, and appeal to site coordinators who place the mass orders for equipment to protect their teams.
10 weeks, Spring 2019
Collaboration on all design
Sketching and storyboarding
Final sewing collaboration
Why Equa is Different
Equa Fall Harness is designed to comfortably support and protect the bodies of all construction workers. During our primary research, we identified ill-fitting personal protective equipment and inability to easily remove harnesses for restroom use. Women working on construction sites have learned to live with these struggles, but only out of necessity.
Beyond aggravation, these pain points also compromise the safety of workers. For example, typical chest straps are uncomfortable for women and they often move it upward to accommodate for their breasts; this can become a serious choking hazard if a fall should occur. Equa distributes weight across the chest and allows for boots-on-the-ground leg strap removal. Equa is a step toward fall protection equipment that embraces all bodies.
How Equa Reduces
Harnesses are flawed but necessary. Although they save many lives, the trauma inflicted by the harness itself can cause groin injury and restriction of leg circulation. Fellow innovators in the market have experimented with alternative ways to absorb the force of a fall—Equa aims to push this trend.
Shock webbing attached to an anchor point contracts the internal structure of the leg straps during a fall. This distributes the pressure across a greater surface area: imagine the tightening of your shoe lace. This removes the groin impact experienced with typical harnesses and reduces the risk of compartment syndrome, a life-threatening circulatory condition.
Behind the Design
It started with a hunch...
As we moved into this project, Perry, Grace, and I didn't initially have a clear view of what the project would be. We didn't know who we would be designing for or whether the solution would be hard goods or soft goods. What we did have was a shared set of values, the desire to build a product guided by user research, and an urge to use this project to get out of our comfort zones.
During one of our many discussions in the weeks preceding Spring quarter, the topic of construction was brought up. None of us knew much about construction, but intuition told us there could be something there. We set up a meeting with a construction management professor to see if this might be an area worth pursuing.
We met with a construction management professor to see if this could be an area worth pursuing. During the meeting with this professor, we viewed graphs from past projects that were used to measure the strain that could be placed on the human body and anthropometric factors used for wearables in the industry. While looking at these measurements for "optimal" size and weight ranges, it occurred to the room of women:
"Wait, that probably doesn't account for women..."
Construction is a booming industry and yet labor shortage is at an all time high.
of construction companies want to hire more employees this year
is average the annual salary of a construction worker
of labor workers in the US did not need a degree to achieve their career
How might we create more inclusive PPE so that all construction workers can more feel secure and protected.
To find out more from women who use PPE on a daily basis, we went to a private Facebook group for women in construction. We asked them if they had encountered safety equipment that was not fit for women and their responses resoundingly called out the fall harness as a primary offender.
The commercial construction company Skanska invited us to tour one of their sites and interview workers about their experience with harnesses. Insights from these in-person conversations and observations would solidify our direction.
"I've seen women wearing chest straps way too high up; it can definitely be a choking hazard."
Exofit Nex Crossover
Crossing chest straps
Draws attention to chest
Post-Fall Trauma Relief
Miller Relief Step
Requires action by a user who may be in shock
Petzl Volt LT Harness
Removable leg straps
No tool belt affordance
Quick! Build Something!
By now, we were itching to get prototyping. Before we jumped into sketching, we made a quick tape and webbing prototype to get a better understanding of body proportions and the way the elements of a harness fit together.
From there, we dove into a round of concept sketches.
Switch between an X and H chest configuration with custom lacing of webbing
Screamers and Strap Release
Build a standing strap into the design that releases on impact with screamers that rip to soften a fall
Chest Cover Shape
Add foam padding on chest to distribute pressure
Removable Leg Corset
Expand leg surface area that tightens on impact to reduce groin trauma and risk of compartment syndrome
We wanted our design to celebrate how bad-ass of a job construction is and to signal body protection. We drew conceptual inspiration from classic super hero costumes and body armor.
We were also inspired by athletic performance wear and climbing harness design. With the explosion of recreational climbing, that type of harness has received a lot more design love than construction harnesses. We aspired to apply visual and structural experimentation found in climbing harnesses from companies like Black Diamond and Edelrid.
Hidden Color Pops
Over the course of two weeks, with a great deal of experimentation, we constructed the elements of the final design. A local design firm that specializes in outdoor equipment was generous enough to let us use their workshop for fabrication. With access to a variety of industrial sewing machines, a bar tack machine, and a heat press, this allowed us to construct much of the core harness structure as it would actually be made for real-world use.
Once we were done building, we visited a construction site on UW campus to document the final model. While there, we received comments from a few male construction workers like:
"Damn, that looks way cooler than what I wear."
Play with friends
The joy of the process, nights drinking wine and talking about design, were what make this project a success for me regardless of the end product.
Trust the Process
None of us knew anything about construction before beginning, but we trusted our abilities to learn through user research.
Break Your Prototypes
I am infinitely proud of my team's ability to relentlessly iterate, savagely tear out stitches, and begin again. The prototype piles grew high.
Ask for Help
This project would have been impossible without the profound generosity of our friends at Skanska, Industrial Alchemy, and the on-campus construction team, not to mention many others who helped along the way.