© 2019 Audrey Levy all rights reserved

Equa

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.

MY ROLE

Collaboration on all design

Research

Sketching and storyboarding

Prototype collaboration

Hardware modeling

Final sewing collaboration

Tech pack

COLLABORATORS

Grace Budgett

Perry Burke

PROJECT DURATION

10 weeks, Spring 2019

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

Critical Injuries

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.

Weight Distribution

Process

Behind the Design

Construction is a booming industry and yet labor shortage is at an all time high.

79%

of construction companies want to hire more employees this year

$38,758

is average the annual salary of 
a construction worker

2/3

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 feel more secure and protected. 

Facebook Feedback

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. 

Site Visit

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."

Sonja

Commercial Electrician

Design

Criteria

Existing

Solutions

Universal Design

Exofit Nex Crossover

+

Crossing chest straps

-

Draws attention to chest

Post-Fall Trauma Relief

Miller Relief Step

+

Improves circulation

-

Requires action by a user who may be in shock

External accessory

Everyday Wear

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.

Sketch Ideation

From there, we dove into a round of concept sketches. 

Modular Hardware

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

Concept Inspiration

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. 

Body Armor

Hard lines

Tactical CMF

Electric Colors

CMF Inspiration

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.  

Thin Foam

Material Separations

Internal Webbing

Hidden Color Pops

Fabrication

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.

Final Model

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."

Universal Design

Reduces Trauma

Daily Wear

Key Learnings

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.