Health and well-being in garment workshops and factories

In Ghana (small local workshops) and in Bangladesh (large outsourcing factories

2015 ir. Hajo Schilperoort, ir. Kristel Hermans

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:

  • Room temperature and humidity have a strong impact on mental and physical productivity (Bauer, Mosle & Schwarz, 2007).
  • Daylight has a very significant effect on health & well-being and on productivity; the lack of daylight leads to complaints of depression, fatigue and sadness (Leather, Pyrgas, Beale & Lawrence, 1998; Boubekri, 1991; Beauchemin & Hays, 1996).
  • In a situation without view (literally: perspective), employers are dissatisfied about their work. They report feelings of isolation, depression, tension and claustrophobia (Finnegan & Solomon, 1981; Sundstrom, 1986).
  • Enduring exposure to high noise levels leads to permanent hearing loss, annoyance, aggression, lack of concentration and hypertension (Salehin, Nazmul Islam, Shafiul Alam & Mosharraf Hossain, 2014).
  • Sufficient personal space and individual control of the workspace promotes well-being, dedication, labor pleasure and productivity and it decreases emotional exhaustion (Laurence, Fried & Slowik, 2013, Town, 1982).
  • Working in small teams (Module Production) instead of in the Progressive Bundling System promotes productivity, learning, quality and flexibility. Working in teams has shown to be "more interesting and fun" and promoting friendships and a good atmosphere, provided that a "variety of attitudes" among team members is handled well, which otherwise can lead to "communication problems and misunderstandings" (Hamilton, Nickerson & Owan, 2003).

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 workshop is elevated on stilts, so that it will not suffer from occasional floodings.
  • The design team came up with a concept in which a clear division is made between the ground floor and the first floor; the elevated ground floor is used entirely for manufacturing and storage, while the first floor is a covered platform for cooking, eating, sanitation, meetings, relaxing and religion. It provides an elevated view over street level.
  • It has a small patio that guarantees a view on a green garden, in case the grey urban building surroundings fail to provide that connection with "nature".
  • Shutters protect the interior from exposure to the extremely hot sun; they can either be down while the louvres are open, but they can also be folded open completely to create a large overhang to block the sun when it is on its highest point. The shutter system can also be closed completely to keep burglars out during the night.
  • The first floor, which is originally meant for extra facilities, can be transformed into a second production floor for vertical expansion. No extra plot size and a minimum of new materials are needed for this option, but the original concept of the clear division of functions gets lost. It is preferable to expand the building along the length, because it does not affect the vicinity of light, the vicinity of view and the air flow through the building.
  • There are several options for the roof: one variant consists of a space frame with solar panels on top, while the space frame is used as a pergola for pleasant crawler vegetation. It is self-sufficient in terms of both energy and rainwater, which are collected and stored. Another option is more basic and consist of a simple roof cover that protects the (people on the) platform from sun and rain. Yet another, third variant skips the floating roof entirely, and restricts itself to just a facility for the primary production.

The Bangladeshi factory

Students: Martin Drijvers, Twan Lavrijssen, Arthur van Lier, Alexandra Shilova and Ruud Winters

  • The design team decided to break with the current Bangladeshi tradition of filling the entire plot and extruding it, as this necessarily results in deep, dark, poorly ventilated floors with no contact to the outside. The first decision was therefore to cover only 50% of the plot, limit the depth of the floors to 20 meters, and consequently increase the height of the building.
  • The team developed a modular setup with two wings which are connected by a core. The length of the wings, their orientation and the position of the core are flexible. The wings and core can be applied in multiple configurations to fit multiple sites.
  • An existing factory site was arbitrarily selected to deliver proof of the concept/ principle. The resulting H-shaped plan has an open access to the road and one wing deliberately blocks most of the sun for the rest of the building.
  • The floor height is then set to 6,6 m. Intermediate mezzanine floors can be built in the middle of the floor area, leaving 2 m zones along the facades open for the
  • purposes of deep daylight and sufficient natural ventilation and circulation.
  • The South facade is designed for blocking direct access of sunlight. The balconies serve as primary sun shading to prevent excessive heating, first of all in the summer. Light shelves reflect some of the unblocked light from lower sun positions, via the ceilings, deep into the building, in the winter.
  • The facade panels at the East and West facades are placed in sawtooth pattern, where closed parts are facing and blocking the sun, and glass windows open up to provide a view and give access to indirect daylight.
  • Natural ventilation access and exhaust is on the long facades: low entries for fresh air and high entries for heated and polluted air. If there is not enough wind, mechanical outlets can be employed. Since the air outside is also not very clean, extra design measures have yet to be taken to filter or neutralize the incoming flow.
  • The core is playful with various colors, types of spaces (atriums), a loose routing over stairs and a diverse central program of storage, sanitation, doctors facilities, amenities. Three lifts provide an additional easier way up or down.
  • The floors have an open plan, which allows for various production systems. The Progressive Bundling System, where work is processed in massive rows behind each other, is most common, yet perhaps not the most suitable for well-being, and also production. Students have therefore also looked into Modular Production, where small teams of circa 12 workers together take care of production of an order from beginning to end "autonomously", sometimes switching between specialized jobs. Whether a factory prefers PBS or MPS, design studies have shown that the production lines can be folded. It has shown to be possible to create U-pockets that allow more of a team spirit and perception of social belonging, both for massive and decentralized production. The design team expects that it pays to create more intermediate spatial, social and functional scales between the sole individual worker and the manufacturing mass as a whole.
  • The design facilitates enough spaces for short breaks (balconies) and longer breaks (roof). The roof provides space for regular breaks and religious rituals. Debate with manufacturers have made it clear that safety and sun protection need to be top priorities for these facilities.
  • If it is decided that the building also needs to be energetically self-sufficient, a photovoltaic (floating) roof construction can be considered.
  • The rain water is collected on the roof and then runs down in water circuits in the concrete floors to cool down the building. It can also be used for ironing. Rain water is not yet used for cooling incoming fresh air, but this could be a next important design improvement.


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).

Bauer, M., Mosle, P. and Schwarz, M. (2007). Green Building &minus Guidebook for Sustainable Architecture.

Boubekri, M. (2008). Natural light and health: In Daylighting, architecture and health building design strategies.

Beauchemin, K. M. and Hays, P. (1996). Sunny Hospital Rooms Expedite Recovery from Severe and Refractory Depressions.

Finnegan, M. C. and Solomon, L. Z. (1981). Work attitudes in windowed vs windowless environments.

Hamilton, B. H., Nickerson J. A., Owan, H. (2003) Team Incentives and Worker Heterogeneity: An Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Teams on Productivity and Participation.

Huijerman, A. (2013). Zo'n ramp mag nooit meer gebeuren.

International Business Times (2015). Rana Plaza Disaster Update: Owner Sohel Rana Charged With Murder In Building Collapse That Killed 1,129.

Laurence, G.A., Fried, Y. and Slowik, L.H. (2013). "My Space": A moderated mediation model of the effect of architectural and experienced privacy and workspace personalization on emotional exhaustion at work.

Leather, P., Pyrgas, M., Beale, D. and Lawrence, C., (1998). Windows in the Workplace: Sunlight, view, and occupational stress.


Padma textiles.

Salehin, S., Nazmul Islam, K.M., Shafiul Alam, M. and Mosharraf Hossain, M. (2014). Industrial noise levels in Bangladesh; is worker health at risk?

Sundstrom, E. (1986). Work Places: The Psychology of the Physical Environment in Offices and Factories.

Town, J. (1982). Effects of Participation in Office Design on Satisfaction and Productivity.


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.