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 challenge the norm. 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.
Collaboration on all design
Sketching and storyboarding
Final sewing collaboration
10 weeks, Spring 2019
Behind the Design
Women face many obstacles to pursuing construction as a career path.
Women are less than 10% of the workforce
66% of women working construction say they’ve been sexually harassed
Tools & personal protective equipment are most often fit to male proportions
How might we create more inclusive PPE so that all construction workers can feel more 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."
The users considered in design are those the product serves. We must always question history's biases and our own. Learn more about how design for the "default man" influences our everyday lives in this great episode of 99% Invisible!
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.
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.