At project sites in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, 27 McCarthy Building Co. women employees are testing a harness better suited to fit a diversity of body types than the more ubiquitous harnesses generally available at construction sites.

The pilot is part of a grant program introduced by Autodesk and Associated General Contractors in November 2019 that provides successful applicants with funding to purchase safety harnesses designed to fit women's bodies. The company was one of 21 to receive the grants. McCarthy announced the rollout during National Construction Safety Week on Sept. 14-18.

The harnesses, from MSA Safety Co., are a V-fit, in contrast to an H-style. Instead of a strap that runs across the chest, the harnesses buckle at the center of the chest, where the shoulder straps meet in a V. This allows for a “closer, more comfortably fitting harness while eliminating the need for bulky chest straps and buckles that are sometimes hard to adjust for women,” according to Anne Osbourn, construction segment marketing manager at MSA Safety.

Sharani White, a senior project engineer at McCarthy, echoed that sentiment in her test run with the harness, praising the “fit and feel” as well as “the fastening and tightening abilities, which better fit my body type.” Because different components can be tightened or loosened, the comfortable fit “is felt in the front clasp, leg straps and shoulder straps,” she adds.  

To design the harnesses in the series, “MSA looked at biometric data initially for over 5,000 people to create a sizing chart that was representative of a diverse population,” says Osbourn.  While the harness isn't designed exclusively for women, the company did conduct a separate, women-specific sizing and comfort study.

The immediate goal of the grant program is to provide construction-sector women properly fitted fall protection equipment, but a long-term aim is to draw more women into the industry. Grant recipients were asked to detail recruitment and retention efforts for underrepresented populations as part of the application process. At McCarthy, one of those efforts is its Partnership for Women—of which White is a member—focused on recruitment, development and retention of women. 

“As we continue our efforts to recruit women into our industry, properly fitted PPE is a great step in the right direction, a small gesture with a big impact: helping women feel welcomed and included,” she says.