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Case Study 2: Load-Bearing Devices for Women Construction Workers

This section is a detailed in-depth research that follows the research methodologies to define a practicable problem. The kind of unrealized exclusion faced by construction workers is been attempted to reduce with the help of technological development and simple, frugal yet functional technologies have been created.


This study was taken up with an intent to explore a community living in conditions leading to a combination of the factors for their exclusion. Coming up with a coping strategy based design solutions through design intervention. This work includes an in-depth ethnographic and first-hand study of the lives of construction workers, data analysis and exploration into some product-based solutions for mitigation of the workers.

Aspects of exclusion

The exclusion table proposed after brainstorming is here highlighted with relevant factors leading to the realized exclusion of a community. 

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Magnitude of the industry

• 11.1% of Indian GDP
• Employment to 3.5 crore people in India itself
• 250 ancillary industried dependent on construction
• Fragmented Industry
• Very high rate of employment  
• 50% market capture by big players in the market

Research Aim

To understand the problems faced by the various workers in the construction industry in all the contexts possible and finding the actionable and most intense areas to further direct the product development process.

Research objectives

1.    To Understand the users and find the target set amongst the different workers
2.    To identify the atrocities faced by this user set because of the work conditions and occupational situations in context of the task and category of worker
3.    To identify the various products used by workers in the construction industry in India and Abroad to carry load and understanding the mindset of the workers towards adapting or accepting these products to ease their task
4.    To understand how the system of hierarchy works and affects the working of the workers, effect of stakeholders and temperaments of the authorities on these construction sites
5.    To compare the different construction sites and find out how the scale and location of sites affect the process of material handling by the workers.
6.    To understand in totality the roles of different people on the construction sites and how they affect each other’s functioning.
7.    To understand load, its physiological aspects, ergonomic aspects, etc instrumental in the process of product development 

Research strategy

1.    Since this is a very new industry to me, an immersive direct involvement has to take place with construction workers. Visits to these sites need to be carried out and the use of various research probes would help in data collection.
2.    An ethnographic study shall be done to understand and draw inferences from the minute personal aspects of the workers.
3.    An approach of iterative action research would be attempted. Quick prototypes would be made along with the research phase and sent for user testing in small time loops for critical and in-depth research inputs
4. Tools used: 
        •Literature review
        •Expert interviews

Products and materials

Materials include physical substances used as a raw material or used in the same form directly. Materials used in the construction industry are a combination of:
• adhesives 
• aggregate
• asphalt 
• timber 
• bamboo 
• cast iron 

• cement 
• ceramics 
• clay 
• coal 
• concrete
• glass 

• gravel
• calcium hydroxide
• plywood
• sheet metal
• sand
• stone

First aid

adequate first aid supplies and trained workers must be readily available and this is a mandate by the government. The contractors need to ensure the condition of first aid boxes and training of workers and staff.

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Labor laws

Matters related to employment in India are governed by the Constitution of India
• Factories act, 1948
• Shops and establishment acts
• Contract labor act, 1970
• Industrial employment standing order act, 1946 
• Building and construction workers act, 1996
• Industrial disputes act, 1947 

• Trade unions act, 1926
• Payment of wages act, 1936
• Minimum wages act, 1648
• Payment of bonus act, 1965 
• Equal remuneration act, 1976

Manual material handling

Manual material handling (MMH) refers to any action done by a combination of lifting/ lowering, pushing/ pulling and carrying load by the human body. MMH is the most common element of the work women do on construction sites and this kind of comes under unskilled work especially on construction sites

Ergonomics of load lifting

• Lifting heavy items icauses injuries to construction workers 
• 36% of injuries are shoulder and back injuries. 
• Over exertion and cumulative trauma lead to these injuries. 

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Innovations in manual load bearing

3 way manual load bearing device designed by Dr. Vikram Panchal from NID

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Construction Sites- Field Visits

In order to understand the functioning of the industry and people, field visits were conducted carefully using various aspects of data collection at locations that we categorized as:

1. Type 1: Urban with crane

2. Type 2: Urban without a crane

3. Type 3: Rural

4. Type 4: Subsidiary industry

Questionaire for data collection

Goal: Understanding a problem area to the users and gaining insights in its context. 

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Sites Visitted: 9
Users put under test: above 300
Catagorization of sites:
    Type 1: Urban areas with a crane
    Type 2: Urban areas without crane
    Type 3: Rural area
    Type 4: Subsidiary industry


Based on these inputs, personas were created


Goal: Understanding a problem area to the users and gaining insights in its context. 

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Mind map 1

The problem that has multiple consequences is considered to be of higher intensity and a solution directed to the same is a more viable solution. It was found that the volume of problems lying around the occupational aspects is high and having a higher intensity due to factors like physiological harm, etc. but aspects like psychology, education and children spark the occurrence of a lot of the problems

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Stakeholder map

This representation of the stakeholders in a construction site shows the various bodies which directly affects the users in their life. On parameterization of the stakeholders into primary secondary and tertiary, their relationships when analysed give insights on value exchange and depencence.

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 Actionable problem statement

To develop a load carrying device for workers in the construction industry with the following consideration:
1. Load distribution on the human body
2. Ergonomics of load lifting
3. Assistive device supported by wheels
4. Environmental context of use

Actionable insights

A.    Physiological Aspects

1.    The most common physiological issue to women in the industry is pain in the back and shoulders which later poses to problems like arthritis, early ageing. Etc.
2.    These workers being experienced in the various activities have a lot of problems that they face in their daily lives due to the system, work culture and hierarchy
3.    These workers were found to age faster. A 21-year-old boy would look like he is 40 and most of the older people were found to stop working around the age of 50 with a history of early deaths around the age of 60 was reported while some females were reported to live till up to 75 years.
4.    Women are engaged in doing unskilled load-lifting work only and were found to be lifting more weight than what males do during the day. This weight and frequency of load-carrying increases at instants when roof laying is done.
5.    Elderly in the industry mostly have physiological issues and a weak musculoskeletal structure making them prone to life taking diseases. 
6.    Lack of balance established in the amount of load that is carried, duration of work, 

B.    Mental Aspects

7.    Workers show a low will to learn or grow in life. They have come to a saturation in the skill that they possess and are least bothered in becoming contractors or switch professions.
8.    Lack of leadership, often suppressed but the potential exists.
9.    Women have a dominant role in the household as they take care of most of the responsibilities as the males are engaged in heavy drinking.
10.    The workers are mostly involved with agriculture in their villages and go back during the harvesting season. The money that is saved in the construction work could be invested in agriculture to bring the production up but alcoholism does not let this happen affecting the overall lives of their families in general.

C.    Family Aspects

11.    Children on these sites do not go to school during the part of the year the workers are working 
12.    Children are mostly not safe in the sites to play and have a tendency to start engaging in labour work in early ages
13.    Children were found to not follow any other profession than construction work and follow their family lineage because they develop this skill at early ages and have been seeing their parents in the profession since forever.

D.    System Aspects

14.    Unionisation is suppressed by the contractors and the workers are kept in the dark away from elements like human rights and labour laws
15.    Safety inspectors in the city are less in number and do not conduct proper surveys for safety and infrastructure for workers. They are often bribed to avoid any trouble by the contractors or builders.
16.    Immersion for NGO’s or help organisations is very difficult because the management does not promote workers to interact with outsiders fearing the law enforcement agencies and human right activism as most of them are involved in unsafe work techniques.
17.    Waste material has to be dumped safely at designated locations and contains a lot of metal, gunny bags, nails, wood, etc. This is of not much value to the builders because of alternate higher value incentives.
18.    Hand tools, safety gear and any other technology in use is provided by the contractor and builder. Lack of ownership of these products results in its discard because of inconvenience.
19.    No training is given to the workers and the learning happens abruptly in the worksites directly. The first few weeks of a labourer were reported as mighty painful and troublesome. However, acceptance of the profession over time gives them the taste of reality and the workers become habitual of the heavy physical labour work.
20.    Lack of proper sanitation and housing infrastructure in the make-shift shelters made onsite largely affect their personal lives. 

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Field testing

All of the prototypes were taken to the field for testing and gathering of feedback.
These concepts were given to the workers to use and give valuable insights which 
would be the real certification of success and act as an aid in improvisation.

Testing strategy

The prototypes were taken to actual construction sites and given for usage. A survey form was used to collect quantitative insights for the same and a mini-research process was established. 

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Critical feedback was taken from the workers' int the context of how practical the various prototypes are. After improvement, some of them were liked while some were upfront rejected.

Future scope

The problems associated with belief, stereotypes and mental model were not solved by these prototypes and need a softer, more deeper solution as a service to aggregate the workers periodically, to help them find a solution to their own problems, etc. This thesis work is open for researchers to derive insights from  and find solution to the aspects that I could not for some reason.

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