Health and well-being in garment workshops and factories
In Ghana (small local workshops) and in Bangladesh (large outsourcing factories
On 24th of April 2013 a garment factory - Rana Plaza - in Bangladesh collapsed. Over a thousand people died. It was by far the biggest disaster that happened in the garment industry. It caught media-attention from all over the world, but it was not the only accident. The lack of fire- and structural safety is a consistent problem (Huijerman, 2013), as well as the circumstances in which the employees work. This emerging situation was taken up for a Master project at the Department of the Built Environment form TU Eindhoven. The goal of the project was to come up with a building concept/ a blue print for a safe and healthy garment workshop or factory. Nine students participated. The students worked in multidisciplinary groups, designing that blue print of a safe and healthy Ghanaian workshop and a Bangladeshi factory.
Project phase 1: research
The project started by identifying and researching issues to get familiar with the context of the assignment. Some students looked into the program of demands in terms of primary function: how does it work, the garment manufacturing process? They made an inventory and analysis of what is spatially and functionally needed for (the process of) storing, cutting, sewing, ironing, quality control and packaging. Their inventory and analysis are based on the factory of Padma Textiles in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and translated as well into a program of demands for a Ghanaian workshop. These students also looked deeper into factory and workshop locations: size and orientation of the site, the roads, distance to and the height of neighbouring buildings and physical aspects of the locations, such as soil conditions, climate, sun trajectories, wind directions and natural hazards. Another group took care of technology mapping: what is the technological, industrial, professional, commercial, logistic and educational infrastructure of the countries? It is found that traditional techniques and methods are well available, others (prefabrication) not so much, or to a limited extent. The third issue was the development of factories and labor conditions in the West since the Industrial Revolution, showing a steady evolution with several highlights and critical historical moments. This investigation is done to see how the Ghanaian and Bangladeshi situation is compared to the historical situation in the West. Two other students looked into the prescribed "conceptual" approach to building: how can we make a design for a market segment? How can we design a type, rather than an one-of-a kind building? They made a distinction between essential principles of the solution (always on) versus modules (on or off) and parameters (less or more) and defined the solution space and its limitations. Another group looked for reference projects to investigate the aesthetic opportunities of building structures: how can a simple (in terms of manufacturing) building structure be architecturally interesting and sensitive? Then, last but not least, the largest group of three students researched health & well-being. They made an extensive study of the relations between these different aspects of health & well-being: (day)light levels, views, clean air, noise levels, temperature, green, amenities, personal space and group size. The mentioned aspects have a great influence on the health & well-being of workers (on people in general), which has also been quantified in consulted scientific studies of others.
Health & well-being
As mentioned above, the goal of this project was to design a blue print for a safe and healthy workshop and factory. Since the Bangladesh Accord provides rules for safety, health became the main topic of this research. Therefore these findings will be described in more detail.
Findings in the field of health & well-being are:
These are all building related factors which architects and engineers can work with.
Project phase 2: problems and solutions
Phase II is done in two teams, one part of the students focused on the workshop for Ghana while the other students focused on the factory for Bangladesh. The groups from phase I were split in a way that all the groups from phase I were represented in both teams.
Phase II was dedicated to making a (hierarchical) list of all the (technical) problems/ goals/ chances that the students found in the research phase, either from targeted research or through creative brainstorms, and to finding multiple different/ varied solutions for any one of these aspects. For example: students came up with various ways to provide daylight, various ways to cool down the air, various ways to avoid flooding, various ways to protect from theft, various ways to create spatial quality, etc. This resulted in an overview of all the (researched) problems and all the solutions for those problems that the students could think of. The overview also included general strategies to solve the problems. Students clustered the problems, put them in hierarchies and categories, attached a relative weight to them, just to explore and organize all aspects before thinking about a design; note that nothing was designed yet.
Project phase 3: design
The design phase was postponed until an insight and overview of all relevant problems and solutions was gained. Then the students were "finally" asked to come up with integral design ideas, based on all or most relevant aspects from the start.
For both teams, this meant that they started out (and ended) with fully detached buildings, with open floor plans and structures, limited depth and smart and adaptable facades that provide the right amounts of light, sun, air, views and ventilation. Both teams also came up with labour seating arrangements that provide more social contact and less anonymity and provided clear and convincing strategies for the expansion of the workshop and factory. The technical details (can) vary, but these strategic design decisions provide clear value and importance for the health & well-being of employees.
The Ghanaian workshop
Students: Nina Claus, Marijn Landman, Glenn Pennings and Tamar Tsanava
The workshop design for Ghana is characterized by all of the above, plus some extra features:
The Bangladeshi factory
Students: Martin Drijvers, Twan Lavrijssen, Arthur van Lier, Alexandra Shilova and Ruud Winters
There is a clear relationship between (day)light, air quality, noise, temperatures, access to green and nature, amenities, personal space and group size and health & well-being. There is also a substantial and convincing relationship between these conditions and the productivity of employees. These two findings provide both idealist social/ human arguments and financial/ economic incentives to invest in labor conditions.
Effective design strategies are: fully detached buildings, with relatively undeep open floor plans and structures, high ceilings and smart facades that provide the right amounts of light, air, views at the right time. Effective cooling can be provided by relatively cool rain water and/or subsoil water tanks. The building should provide sufficient amenities and the production organization should preferably allow intermediate spatial, social and functional scales between the sole individual worker and the manufacturing mass as a whole.
Accord on Fire and Building Safety In Bangladesh (2015). http://bangladeshaccord.org
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International Business Times (2015). Rana Plaza Disaster Update: Owner Sohel Rana Charged With Murder In Building Collapse That Killed 1,129.
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Modint is the Dutch association of companies in fashion, interior, carpets and textiles. In 2012 they presented an ambitious Plan of Action that aims to set a step in the direction of an improved social, ecological and economical chain and sector. One of the problems that had already been identified was the safety and health of/in workplaces. Modint has been very interested in the results of the project and provided valuable feedback.
MVO Nederland hosts the workgroup Safe & Healthy Workplaces, in which Modint (members), various Dutch governmental departments and the Bangladesh Accord are gathered. The workgroup has shown active interest in the project and also gave feedback us valuable feedback at various occasions.
Padma Textiles is a trade company that also owns various garment factories in Dakha, Bangladesh. They produce ready-made garment for many (well known) brands. Padma Textiles, in the person of Floran Derijcke, gave us a lot of valuable input and feedback throughout the project. We are very grateful for his involvement and cooperation.
Vlisco produces garment for West-Africa. Vlisco contacted TU Eindhoven for a blue print for a safe garment workshop. After intake, we expanded the aim to include health & well-being.
This article was previously published in SUPporter magazine.