Today’s Solutions: November 30, 2022

Despite its importance, a lot of construction wear isn’t made for comfort, especially if you don’t have a “default male body”. With a wide range of body types in the construction industry and its growing diversity, construction wear seems to operate on a one-size-fits-all standard, even when it comes to safety.

In a dangerous workplace, the right fit of a safety vest isn’t only a matter of comfort. It’s a matter of, well, safety. This is what the recent Cal Poly V.E.S.T. (Verifying Everyone’s Safety Together) Hackathon set out to solve.

Group-sourcing change

When her oversized safety vest got caught on a piece of construction equipment, Lizette Galvez, a Cal Poly Construction Management alumnus and current project engineer at PCL Construction, decided to look into today’s protective equipment standards. 

With help from colleagues, Galvez collected enough data to prove this was a common occurrence. Many construction workers, particularly women, did not fit in their safety vests. This affected more than their safety. In a safety vest with the shoulders too wide and the arm openings too big, many women can feel like they don’t fit into their workforce. Something had to be done.

Galvez collaborated with the Cal Poly Women in Construction club and held a “hackathon,” bringing students together to collaboratively solve a problem. 

Participants broke into six teams and got to work with the consultation of safety standards representatives. They gave guidelines for the vests, like the minimum amount of reflective material. Each team had two days to deconstruct a vest and augment it with zippers, buckles, ties, and other materials. 

The winning design was a vest that featured weight distribution with adjustable straps on the inside, vertical zippers for more access points, and a higher-up back pocket for better ergonomics. Not only that, it had tool-specific storage. 

Starting with a better vest, the Cal Poly V.E.S.T. Hackathon broached a larger subject about how construction can be safer and more equitable for everyone, not just women. 

“Although construction may have become complacent as an industry, it is okay to challenge that complacency to advocate for ourselves and our safety rather than just assimilating to the status quo,” said Stacy Kolegraff, assistant professor of the Cal Poly Construction Management Department. “Events like this are helping to empower workers and provide a platform for them to speak up when something isn’t safe. This is an opportunity to collaborate with others from similar circumstances and develop a real network of support.”

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