Ergonomic Workplace Evaluation in Ugandan Apparel Production Plants: A Case Study in the Selected Small and Medium Cut, Make and Trim (CTM) Enterprises

Last Updated on 08/04/2021

Ergonomic Workplace Evaluation in Ugandan Apparel Production Plants: A Case Study in the Selected Small and Medium Cut, Make and Trim (CTM) Enterprises

Tebyetekerwa Mike
Dept. of Textile & Clothing Technology
Kyambogo University, Kampala, Uganda


The study analyzed and evaluated the workplace of a worker in Ugandan apparel production plants. 103 workers in 7 garment factories were interviewed. Report and observational studies suggest that employees in this industry often work under difficult conditions that are unacceptable in industrialized countries. This report gives results of an ergonomic workplace evaluation in Uganda to evaluate the working conditions of the apparel production plants from an ergonomics/human factors perspective and to suggest possible solutions to management for implementation. The investigation was done by a questionnaire survey and by observations and measurements in the workplace. The results indicated that the plant conditions were stressful, involving long work hours with poor safety and labor relations, and that work equipment and the physical workplace design were not acceptable ergonomically. A low-cost solution, is presented to management and workers by the researcher.


1.0 Introduction
This chapter covers background of this study, the statement of the problem, justification of the problem, objectives, significance and scope of the study.

1.1 Background
In view of the rapid growth in industrial production in the last decades, it has become necessary to approach issues of work organization, management, and working conditions in a comprehensive manner. Employers have begun to monitor closely all factors potentially impeding continued increases in productivity. Initially, advances were driven mainly by mechanization of the production process, which soon got out of control becoming a frequent cause of occupational injuries and diseases. The consequence was an increased role of the human factor as the main part of systems composed of man, machine, and the working environment. (Wiesław, 2001)

The need to ensure a safe working environment is a prerequisite to providing high quality products and services. Occupational safety is one of the most important factors contributing to productivity increases, which consequently lead to more benefits from business activities. A comprehensive analysis of working conditions allows corporate managements to adjust employee pay for risks faced in a given workplace and define competences required in specific jobs.

Aware of the need to improve working conditions, a research on ergonomic workplace evaluation in Ugandan garment factories is therefore required.

1.2 Problem statement
Ergonomically-designed job would ensure that a taller worker had enough space to safely perform his or her job, and also that a shorter worker could reach all of his or her tools and products without reaching beyond a comfortable and safe range.

The opposite of this, and what typically happens in the workplace, is that a worker is forced to work within the confines of the job or workstation that is already existed. This may require employees to work in awkward postures, perform the same motion over and over again or lift heavy loads – all of which could cause work-related musculoskeletal disorders. (K. Saravanan, 2011)

The garment industry therefore needs to continuously identify the problems and, more importantly, implement solutions to reduce the risk of injuries in situations where these problems exist.

1.3 Significance of the study
To adapt the workplace for the worker in order to decrease the risk of injury and also to improve the link between the worker and their environment.

1.4 Objectives of the study

1.4.1 General objective
To evaluate the working conditions in the garment plants of Uganda from an ergonomics/human factors perspective and to suggest possible solutions to deal with observed problems in order to avail a better working environment with minimum or no threats to the workers.

1.4.2 Specific objectives

  1. Create a database of the working conditions in the Ugandan garment manufacturing plants.
  2. Alert the Ugandan government, employers, worker’s cooperatives and other concerned organizations about the current safety and health of workers in the Ugandan garment plants.
  3. Improve on the productivity of the workers in the garment factories.
  4. Minimize costs involved in worker’s compensation inform of accidents, fines and deaths.

1.5 Scope of the study
The Ugandan clothing manufacturing industry consists of large, medium, and small enterprises. The large formal clothing manufacturing plants are currently phasing out, and the industry is currently made of Small and Medium enterprises, which will serve as the survey environment. Small enterprises consist of design houses and sub-contractors which are referred to as CMT (Cut Make and Trim) within the context of the clothing industry, with the number of employees ranging from 10-100. The medium enterprises, which are full package manufactures (they design and manufacture their own products); have between 120-500 employees.

The research was carried out in Kampala and Jinja. This is because these are the most industrialized areas in Uganda. The research considered working environment, processes and machines involved in the enterprises, and the people involved, that is; the workers.


2.0 Definition
Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. ( International Ergonomics Association, 2010)

2.1 Why ergonomics?
Ergonomics is a topic that affects us all; yet few of us have a good understanding of what the term actually means or realize how it affects us. Ergonomics is a science that focuses on designing a job for the worker.

An ergonomically-designed job would ensure that a taller worker had enough space to safely perform his or her job, and also that a shorter worker could reach all of his or her tools and products without reaching beyond a comfortable and safe range. The opposite to this, and what typically happens in the workplace, is that a worker is forced to work within the confines of the job or workstation that is already in place. This may require employees to work in awkward postures, perform the same motion over and over again or lift heavy loads – all of which could cause work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). (Sarder et al., 2006)

These injuries often start as minor aches and pains but can develop into disabling injuries that affect our activities of daily living such as laundry and hobbies (knitting, golf, etc.). Ergonomics aims at preventing injuries by controlling the risk factors such as force, repetition, posture and vibration that can cause injuries to develop. (Jennifer et al., 2001)

2.2 Fundamental ergonomic principals

a. Use proper tools
Tools should be appropriate for the specific tasks being performed. Tools should allow and keep hands and wrists straight keep repetitive motions to a minimum.

The workstations or tasks can often be redesigned to reduce the number of repetitive motions that must be performed. Using a power-driven screwdriver or tools with a ratchet device can reduce the number of twisting motions with the arm. Some tasks can be automated or redesigned to eliminate repetitive movements and musculoskeletal injuries.

b. Avoid awkward postures
The job should not require one to work with hands above shoulder height on a regular basis. Arms should be kept low and close to your body. Bending and twisting of wrists, back and neck should also be avoided.

c. Use safe lifting procedures
Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy. Use more than one person or a mechanical device to reduce the load. The workstation should not require one to lift objects above the head or twist the back while lifting.

d. Get proper rest
The worker needs to rest the body and mind in order to prevent injuries. Give muscles a rest during your coffee breaks, lunches and weekends by doing something different from what you do in your job.

2.3 State of ergonomics and clothing industry
The clothing industry is generally seen as a safe place to work, and when compared to other industries, there are relatively few serious accidents in clothing plants. The hazards faced are different. The major health risks in this industry do not arise from immediate, potentially fatal hazards. Instead, the risks that clothing workers face come from more subtle hazards whose effect accumulates over time. (Jennifer et al., 2001)

2.4 Common ergonomic problems in apparel production plants
Workers in the garment industry work in clothes designing, sewing or cutting services, and clothes wholesaling. Due to the nature of these jobs, the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders has been high. The nature and severity of the disorders have been considered to be the results of the job characteristics – constrained and sustained work postures, highly repetitive actions, and strong visual demands. The consequences are obvious from the ergonomics points of view – physical and emotional suffering of the workers, high worker compensation costs, decreased productivity and overall inefficiency.

Ugandan Apparel Plants
Fig: Ugandan Apparel Production Plant

Researchers identified common ergonomic problems in each of the four departments: cutting, assembly, pressing and finishing (Jennifer et al., 2001). The researchers looked at work practices that created hazards for workers.

2.4.0 Cutting department
The primary tasks in the cutting department are:

  • Loading the spreading machine
  • Spreading the fabric
  • Cutting the fabric Stacking cut pieces Loading the spreading machine
Loading the spreading machine involves lifting a bolt of fabric from the floor into a spreader, or on to a spreading table if the fabric is spread by hand.

Common problems

  • Loading by hand. Bolts of fabric lifted by hand are very heavy and create a substantial risk of low back injury.
  • Loading with a movable assist or hoist. Spreaders that require the bolt of fabric to be threaded with a spreader bar – some bars are very heavy. Bolts located on the floor require the operator to adopt a stooped or squat posture to thread the bar. When no spreader bar is required the operator has to lift one end of the bolt at a time to attach the hoist.
  • Loading with a ramp. Gravity can be used to load the spreader. The bolt of fabric is lifted onto a ramp by a forklift truck. The bolt then rolls directly into the spreader without manipulation by the operator. The problem with this technique is that it can only be used with certain types of spreaders. Spreading the fabric

Common problems

  • Spreading by hand. Long reaches are required to cut across the width of the fabric each time a layer is completed or flaws are removed from the fabric.
  • Manual spreading. Using a spreading machine that the operator pushes back and forth on the spreading table.
  • Operators have the long reach across the table to cut the fabric and they have to manually pick up weights to hold the fabric down each time a layer is completed before spreading the fabric in the other direction.
  • Automated spreading. Operators either ride on a plat- form or walk beside the automatic spreader as it moves along the table. Operators often have to smooth the fabric while it is being spread. The table is often too low and operators have to bend their backs while smoothing. This is a risky posture when maintained for extended periods of time. Cutting the fabric
There have been great advances in cutting technology in the garment industry. However, not all workplaces are using the latest technology. Not all plants want or need high-tech cutting machines.

Fabric cutting
Fig: Fabric cutting

Common problems

  • Band saw. Excessive reaching caused by improper workstation height. Inability to get close to the blade. Poor waste disposal. Guarding is an issue with this technique.
  • Die cutters. Workstations that are too high require the operator to work with raised arms. Workstations that are too low require them to bend down. Controls often require poor thumb postures. Feeding fabric into the die cutter sometimes requires a lot of forceful pulling.
  • Automatic cutters. Sometimes it is difficult and requires awkward postures to align the cloth being fed into the automatic cutter. The out-feed tables require a lot of reaching when removing the fabric from the table. Controls are not accessible and do not encourage operators to advance the fabric to the end of the table, which would reduce the amount of reaching. The tracks that the automatic cutters move along create a tripping hazard.

2.4.1 Assembly department
The primary tasks in assembling clothing are:

  1. Sewing
  2. Loading automated rail system Sewing
Assembly tasks have many different components that must be considered in an ergonomic assessment including:

Sewing fabric
Fig: Sewing fabric
  1. supply and removal of garments,
  2. sewing table,
  3. chair,
  4. floor surface,
  5. foot pedals,
  6. lighting,
  7. hand tools and
  8. work organization.

Ergonomic problems and solutions for each of these components.

1. Supply and removal of garments
Supply methods used to hold the various pieces of the unfinished garment at the workstation prior to the operator assembling them. Removal – deposit of the garment once the operator has completed the job. The operator has to reach to both the supply and removal locations at least once in the work cycle.

Common problems

  • Boxes. Large boxes that are low to the ground create an awkward reach and bend during each pickup.
  • Tables. Tables are often made of overturned or full boxes. Tables are in poor locations, unstable or garments fall off them so operators have to reach to the floor to pick them up.
  • Workhorses. Workhorses are too low creating an awkward reach for the operator and are too smooth, causing the garments to fall off.
  • Attachments to the sewing table. Wooden bars attached to the sewing table are used as the supply location. These bars are sometimes located too far from the operator, are too small or allow the garments to slip off them.
  • Non-automated rail system. Inflexible system with poor work organization requires operators to manually remove full hangers from the rail to transport them to another workstation. This is a very awkward and heavy lift and carry.
  • Automated rail system. Pieces not delivered to the workstation at an ideal height require the operator to reach, bend and/or twist to reach the garment. Sewing tables larger than necessary do not allow the operator to get close to the hanger. A lot of force is required to hook and unhook the garments from the hangers. Hangers fall off the rail and the operators have to lift them back on. Buttons that control the movement of the hangers are often too far away from the operator or in awkward locations. This system creates specialties.

2. Sewing Table.
The dimensions of the sewing table that should be considered are the:

  • height
  • size
  • shape
  • tilt and
  • leg room.

Common problems

  • Height. Sewing tables are not easily adjustable. Tables that are too high create elevated shoulder postures and non-neutral elbow and wrist postures. Tables that are too low cause the operator to lean forward and flex his or her neck.
  • Size and shape. Some tables are not large enough to support the weight of the garment.

Other tables are too large and get in the way of easy pickup and deposit, particularly when using automated transport systems. Many tables are not the appropriate shape for the job.

  • Table angle. Almost all sewing tables are flat. Flat sewing tables do not maximize visibility and compromise the posture of the upper extremity and neck.
  • Leg room. Sewing machine operators have limited legroom because of drawers and/or trash chutes attached to the underside of the table.

3. Chairs
The chair is a critical piece of equipment for sewing machine operators who work in a seated position. It can have a very large impact on the comfort of the worker and can affect the risk of muscle pain and injury.

Common problems
Operators are provided with very poor chairs such as stacking chairs. These chairs are not adjustable. They provide no cushioning or back support and the edge of the seat constricts blood flow at the back of the legs because of a large rounded hump or square edge.

Some plants provide slightly better chairs that have some height or back adjustment capabilities but they cannot be adjusted quickly and easily and do not provide sufficient back support. Some plants purchase chairs that they believe are ergonomically correct, but they do not meet the needs of the operators. Common problems that occur when buying ergonomic chairs are that one individual selects the chair and it does not fit all or even most operators, and it is not right for all tasks. For example, the chair may have castors or may swivel when this is not right for the job. Often the seat pan is too large, resulting in the backrest not touching the back of the operator. The seat pan may have an uncomfortable hump at the front, causing the operator to sit on the front edge of the seat and not use the backrest. Individuals are not instructed in how to use the chairs properly. Without proper training the many benefits of ergonomic chairs are lost.

4. Foot Pedals
Most sewing machine operators use one treadle, which controls the direction and speed of the sewing machine. Some operators use additional smaller pedals that lift the presser foot or cut the thread.

Common problems
Treadles are very rarely in a proper position for the operators. They are either too far forward or too close to the operator. Both problems are bad for the posture of the operator. Treadles are usually too small to be comfortably operated by both feet, and some are at a very steep angle. The pedal is usually not in a comfortable position. When only one foot is used the operators rarely have a footrest to support the non-working foot. For standing operations, the pedals are too high, requiring the operator to balance on one leg, and they cannot be moved to rotate the effort between both legs.

5. Floor surface
Some assembly tasks are performed from a standing position. When working in a standing position the floor surface is very important to the comfort of the worker and may influence the risk of injury.

Common problems
Operators stand for extended periods of time on hard surfaces.

6. Hand tools
Sewing machine operators frequently use several tools such as scissors or knives and occasionally hammers.

Common problems
Scissors. Large, heavy scissors are used for trimming threads and are held by the blade to provide accuracy. Operators cut through several layers of fabric with scissors that are too small and do not provide enough leverage. Scissor handles are narrow and create contact stresses. Scissors are dull and require excessive force to operate.

  • Knives. Knives without handles are used to remove stitching.
  • Hammers. Inappropriate items are used for hammering seams on garments such as ball peen hammers and wrenches.

7. Work Organization

Common problems
Assembly tasks are very repetitive and provide the opera- tors with little opportunity for rest. Many operators perform only one operation with no job rotation. The repetitive nature of the job is made worse by automated delivery systems or by other workers delivering unfinished garments to the operators. “Team work” systems do not always provide task diversity for all operators. Workstation adjustment policies are not very effective because of lack of training of both the operators and the individuals responsible for the adjustments. Workplaces have no limit to bundle sizes and they sometimes are much too large. Loading the automated rail system
Common problems
Parts being loaded are poorly organized. The working height of the table is almost always too low and the height of the hangers is always too high. Operators are not able to adjust the height of any workstation components.

2.4.2 Pressing department
The primary tasks in the pressing department are:

Fabric pressing
Fig: Fabric pressing
  • Hand Iron
  • Manual Press
  • Automatic Press
  • Fusing

Common problems

  • Working height. Ironing surfaces that are too low force the operator to assume a flexed back and neck posture while working. Surfaces that are too high require operators to work with their shoulders and arms elevated.
  • Floor surface. Pressing operations are performed standing up and many pressing workstations do not have anti- fatigue mats on top of hard floor surface.
  • Foot pedals. Operators use foot pedals to either activate vacuum suction on hand ironing tables or to activate steam and the movement of the press for manual and automatic presses. Foot pedals not close to the floor require the operator to balance on one leg. Small pedals are difficult to locate.
  • Input and Output. Hanging garments are located too high and require extended reaches to pick up and deposit garments. Garments piled on boxes or carts are in a position that is too low and requires bending and reaching.
  • Lighting. Inadequate lighting creates shadows and glare on some pressing surfaces increasing the visual demand on the operator. Hand iron
Common problems

  • Iron. A steaming button too far from the handle of the iron requires an extended thumb posture to activate.
  • Balancers. Some irons are not balanced by a spring from a rod above the workstation. This makes the iron more difficult to locate during a very rapid work cycle and the operator has to use additional force to pick up and manipulate the iron. Some irons are not balanced properly and require excessive force to reach all areas of the garment.
  • Upright steaming. Operators use the iron with the hot surface in a vertical position to steam a garment. The operator has to support the entire weight of the iron and sometimes has to resist the counter force of the balance.
  • Catchers. Catchers acted to support the weight of the garment while it was being pressed. Without a catcher in place large garments have a tendency to slip off the work
  • Iron with steam button too far from the handle, surface, and it requires more force to position and reposition the garment.
  • Guarding. When heat guards are not in place, the handles of steam irons and the steam they produce are very hot. Manual press
Common problems

  • Controls. Hand controls are located too high and require excessive force to activate.
  • Multiple Workstations. Some manual press operators work from more than one press or alternate between manual and hand pressing. When not designed properly this causes unnecessary lifting and carrying through cluttered walkways. Automatic press
Common problems

  • Hand controls. Controls that are inaccessible require awkward postures and excessive force to activate.
  • Foot space. Insufficient space for the automatic shirt- press operators’ feet requires them to stand further away from the work area which increases the reaching required.
  • Contact area. Automatic shirt-press operators often rest against the press while they load the shirts. Some presses have hard, sharp edges that create contact stress when the operator rests on them. Fusing

  • Fusing operations bind two fabrics together to make them stronger.

Common problems

  • In-feed. Operators who feed fabric into the fusing ma- chine from a seated position do not have enough knee space, causing them to sit further away from the fuser and reach with a flexed back posture. Standing operators have to carry fabric from the worktable used for organizing fusing materials to the fuser.
  • Out-feed. Materials are hot when the operator has to pick them up and they have to bend down low to reach them.

2.4.3 Finishing department
The primary tasks in the finishing department are: Hand sewing
The workers performing this task sew the finishing touches on the garments, which may include buttons, eyelets, sequins or fur. The important aspects of the task to consider are:

  • the work surface,
  • the chair,
  • the input/output technique and
  • accessories.

Common problems

  • Work surface. A non-existent or inappropriate work surface results in the worker using his or her lap as the work surface. This creates poor neck and back postures that are maintained for extended periods of time and increases stress on the legs and feet.
  • Chair. Hand sewers sit on poor chairs. The chairs are not adjustable; they provide little or no back support and limited cushioning.
  • Input/Output. Hand sewers must pick up the garments prior to performing their task and deposit them once they have completed it. Typically, sewers stand to remove the garment from a high rail and place it on the rail again upon completion.
  • This requires the sewer to perform lifts with the arms extended and elevated above shoulder height.
  • Accessories. Hand sewers are not provided with a footrest to help relieve the stress on their legs and back while seated. Some are working in poorly lit areas, which can encourage poor posture and result in eyestrain. Workers are using inappropriate tools such as large, heavy scissors for cutting thread. Final inspection
The task of final inspection typically involves visually inspecting the garment for flaws, trimming threads along seams and in some cases cleaning chalk or lint from the garment. The important aspects of the task to consider are:

Final inspection
Fig: Inspection of garment
  • the work surface,
  • input/output,
  • support surface,
  • hand tools,
  • lighting and
  • work organization.

Common problems

  • Work surfaces. Work surfaces that create problems include rolling racks for hanging garments and flat tables. Rolling racks are typically too high and require reaching above shoulder height.
  • Flat tables encourage poor neck or shoulder and wrist posture depending on the height of the table.
  • Input/Output. Rolling racks create difficulties for input and output, as they are typically too high. Boxes sitting on the floor create problems because they are too low.
  • Support surface. Final inspection is usually done from a standing position. Concrete floors can lead to fatigue in the legs, feet and back. Often no seating option or footrests are provided.
  • Hand tools. Inspectors use large scissors that are heavy and awkward to use and therefore require a lot of force to operate.
  • Lighting. Inspectors work in poorly lit areas or ones with inconsistent lighting. This can accentuate poor posture and eyestrain.
  • Work organization. Inspectors work at a very rapid pace and do not take scheduled breaks. This does not give the body time to recover and is a risk factor for injuries. Some inspectors have little variation in their tasks. They rarely have to get up from their workstation since garments are delivered directly to them. Others have to carry large bundles of garments through crowded walkways. Packaging
This task can involve folding and packaging the garments in a bag or a box. We looked at several operations for packaging men’s dress shirts and special considerations for these packaging stations will be described. Important features to consider include:

  • the work surface,
  • input/output,
  • support surface and
  • accessories.

Common problems

  • Work surface. Work surfaces are often flat tables that are not height adjustable and are not at a height appropriate for the worker. When the table is too high the worker has to use an elevated shoulder posture and when it is too low a poor neck and back posture is the result. Packaging tables are often too deep and require excessive reaching to locate tools and supplies. This is particularly true for the shirt folding tables. Rolling carts are much too low and require the packer to work with a very flexed back posture. Overhead racks are too high and require elevated arm postures and heavy overhead lifts.
  • Input. Cardboard boxes located on the floor. Extremely high rolling racks.
  • Output. Garments are placed in very large cardboard boxes that packers can barely reach over, or placed on high, over-filled racks.
  • Tables or benches are at inappropriate heights. Workers must lift and carry awkward, heavy boxes.
  • Support surface. Many packers are required to stand on concrete floors without anti-fatigue mats.
  • Accessories. Some swift tackers require excessive force to operate and create contact stresses in the hand. Hangers are often very difficult to open and close. Irons are heavy and require a poor thumb posture to operate the steam.

2.5 Apparel production plants ergonomics studies
Research on working conditions and associated problems in the garment industry have been conducted by a number of investigators (Keyserling et al., 1982; Punnett, et al., 1985; Blader, et al., 1991; Nag et al., 1992; Anderson et al., 1993; Serratos-Perez and Mendiola-Anda, 1993; and Chan et al., 2002), and their findings have supported the outcomes expected from work environments with poor ergonomic features, including constrained postures, repetitive motions and strong visual demands. Keyserling, et al. (1982) and Serratos-Perez and Mendiola-Anda (1993), for example, found cumulative trauma disorder prevalence rates among sewing machine operators to be 25 % and 47.5 %, respectively. High prevalence rates of problems in the upper body (the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and back) have also been observed by others (Balder et al., 1991; Punnett et al., 1985; Nag et al, 1985; Anderson and Gaardboe, 1993; and Chan et al., 2002). It is suggested that one of the worst aspects of sewing machine operations in the garment manufacturing industry is the body posture operators are forced to assume throughout the workday.

Operators typically sit with a sharp forward flexed torso (Halpern and Dawson, 1996) which places them at risk to musculo-skeletal disorders (Vihma et al., 1982). Such a posture has been found to be mainly the result of the geometry of the workstation, and suggested and tested solutions have included work surface modification (Haslegrave and Corlett, 1993), the adoption of adjustable chairs (Keyserling and Chaffin, 1988; Yu et al., 1988) and various low cost workplace modifications (Chan et al., 2002). Li et al. (1995), in a review of the literature, noted that sewing machine operators’ posture improved from changes in machine and work surface inclination, and Yu et al. (1988) also observed significant posture improvements from improved seat design (Yu et al., 1988)

Ergonomics in apparel industry
Fig: Ergonomics in apparel industry

2.5 Conclusion
Currently the Uganda’s labor force is estimated at 9.8 million of which 53% are females (UBOS, 2006). About 75% of the labor force is below 40 years and yet 30% of the total labor force is illiterate and close to 77% has education below secondary school level. This means that the majority of the individuals who enter the market do not have required skills or even awareness of market requirements and labor laws which include safety and healthy

In Uganda, up to now there is little data and information available in the literature that involve ergonomics principles, that have been implemented in the garment manufacturing industries, even though the ministry of labor clearly advocates for safety and health of workers at workplace. To date, reported evidence indicates that this situation has not improved. While the political and economic conditions of the country may be major factors in this lack of improvement, the awareness of the importance of ergonomic interventions can transcend some of these obstacles. (Konrad et al., 2011)

In addition to the poor physical workplace and equipment design, there is laxity of labor law enforcement which seems to have produced a lack of taking responsibility by management and owners toward working conditions. Studies have shown that most of the garment factories have not followed the country’s labor laws and the International Labor Organization’s conventions. Management and owners seldom take responsibility for any workplace injuries or accidents, and evade responsibilities, even for accidental deaths. For example, there is no national minimum wage. Violation of working hours is at its maximum. According to the employment policy the maximum number of working hours per day should be 10, including 2 overtime hours but, in most cases, workers are forced to work longer extending to 12 to 16 hours per day. Inadequate or absence of transportation, housing, insurance, social security or children day care facilities exacerbates already difficult working conditions.

The present study is an assessment of the work conditions in a garment manufacturing plants in Uganda. This particular topic was selected mainly because of the interest creating the database of the working conditions in the garment manufacturing industry in Uganda through an ergonomic evaluation of the working conditions of the workers and to suggest possible solutions to deal with observed problems.


3.0 Introduction
This chapter will entail the actual procedure used in the answering of the hypothesis and meeting the set objectives.

3.1 Research design
The investigation was done using a questionnaire survey, observations and relevant anthropometric and workplace layout measurements.

Workers’ perceptions of their physical work conditions were solicited via a questionnaire, prepared by me. The subjects were volunteers and were not promised or given any rewards for their effort. Questionnaire information was gathered depending on personal characteristics, subjective opinions about work conditions, and cumulative trauma problems associated with work in the plant.

The personal and job-related characteristics of the subjects (age, years at work, gender, education level and work experience) were recorded.

Walk through survey of the factory shop floor was carried out to observe the activities undertaken in the production of garments. Record review of health records and accident records maintained in the factory was done to identify the causes of accidents and the type of injury and use of protective equipment, training of workers and other related factors.

The investigation lasted for two months. The agreement with management to perform a follow-up study was not guaranteed and was not done.

3.2 Sample/ participants
With questionnaires, I used five representatives in each workplace, four workers and one manager; who helped me to complete my survey in their organization. Then I conducted an ergonomic assessment of five jobs in each workplace, which included; Drafting, Cutting, Assembly, Pressing, and Finishing department

3.3 Data analysis
Quantitative data was analyzed using statistical analysis system. This included the following.

  1. Frequency distribution tables.
  2. Graphic presentation, mainly bar charts and pie charts (for qualitative data) and mean and median (for quantitative data)
  3. Measures of central tendency- mode (for qualitative data) and mean and median (for quantitative data)


Questionnaire information was gathered on personal characteristics, subjective opinions about work conditions, and cumulative trauma problems associated with work in the plant. The personal and job-related characteristics of the subjects (age, years at work, gender, education level and work experience).

Table 4.01 Age of the workers.

AgeNumberPercentage of age group (%)

The workers were relatively young, with the mean age of 27 years (n = 103). About two thirds of them were below 30 years of age, with 5.83% of the workers below 20.

Table 4.02 Age (years) years at work and working hours

VariableMeanStandard deviation
Age (years)274.1
Years at work32.6
Working hours per week61.11.1

The workers were relatively inexperienced, with an average duration of 3 years on the job. In addition, working hours in the different plants were lengthy. On average the worker’s hours per week were 61.1 hours.

The data signifies that most of the workers were young and inexperienced. On addition to that they worked long hours, more than that required in the industrial countries.

Table 4.03 Education of workers


58.25% of the workers attained only primary education and 36.9% attained secondary education whereas only five workers out of 103 went for university education.

This means that about 81.56% of the workers are below 40 years, yet 58.25% of the total workers in the Ugandan apparel industry attained only primary education and 95.15% has education below university level. This means that the majority of the individuals who enter the market do not have required skills or even awareness of market requirements and labor laws which include safety and healthy.

Table 4.04 Work schedules of the workers

Work scheduleNumberPercentage (%)

Table 4.05 Number of workers who work in shifts

Rotating shiftsNumberpercentage

Most workers worked during day and no worker worked in the evening, whereas 13.59% of the workers worked afternoon.

The results signify that in most of the Uganda’s apparel production plants, the work is not divided into schedules/shifts, and therefore the worker is meant to work all day and ensure that a specific task is accomplished. This therefore requires the worker to work even beyond his or her capacity, resulting into fatigue and thus serious accidents.

Table 4.06 Marital status of the workers

Marital statusNumberPercentage
Not married5654.37

45.63% of the workers are married and 54.37% of them are unmarried. But from table 4.01, two thirds of the workers were below 30years of age.

This means that most of them work because of the responsibilities they have, yet very young. They do not have any solution to their responsibilities except them working in these garment manufacturing plants, whatever the condition it might be.

This is also torched in interview and observation table, that there was a general fear of the workers being dismissed for reporting stressful or unsafe working conditions in almost all the firms except only in two firms.

Table 4.07 Workers with work related discomforts

Work related discomfortsNumberPercentage
Back pain4139.8
Neck pain2120.4
Shoulder pain2120.4
Wrist pains98.7
Other discomforts1110.7

As can be seen from the table 4.07, most of the reported incidences in the back, neck and shoulders are relatively high and are most likely the result of working with constrained postures, poorly designed workstations and non-ergonomic tools.

The occurrence of wrist pains (8.7 % of the subject sample) is an indication of excessive hand work involving gripping and pinching with the arm in constrained postures

It is important to note that some of these reported incidences were lower than those reported by Chan et al. (2002) in California and Herbert et al. (2001) in New York but may not necessarily have been due to better work conditions.

The results may have been due to

  1. A greater degree of tolerance and acceptance of pain and suffering at work in the Ugandan workplace compared to the American workplace and
  2. Differences in reporting by subjects. (interview and observation table 4.14)

Table 4.08 nature of the workstation posture of the workers

Work station postureYesNo
Horizontal thighs8023
Verticle lower legs1030
Neutral wrists949

The workstation posture was 91.5% ergonomically engineered and only 8.5% unsafe. This signifies that among all the ergonomics laws and principles, the Ugandan apparel production plants has addressed the workstation principle very well as compared to that in Californian (Chan et al. (2002) and Herbert et al. (2001) and Bangladesh apparel production plants (Sarder et al, 1996)

Table 4.09 Working postures of the workers

Working postureNumberpercentage

The workers in the apparel production plants either worked seated or worked standing. It was found that those who worked seated were those in the garment assembly and stitching, some in pressing and those who worked standing were those worked as pattern drafters, garment finishers and some in pressing department.

Table 4.10 Nature of the seats

Nature of the seatsYesNo
Adjust easily1588
Have padded seat2380
Have adjustable backrest1291
Provide lumbar support5152
Have casters1687

Table 4.11 Nature of the workstation

Nature of the work stationYesNo
Is work surface adjustable2083
Is there sufficient space for the body4855
Can it be used by both left-handed and right handed5053

The seats that were used in the apparel production plants were poorly designed ergonomically 85.43% of the seats used by the workers did not adjust easily, only 22.3% had padded seat, 11.65% had adjustable backrest, whereas 50.49% did not provide lumbar support to the workers, and 84.50% of the seats lacked casters.

The results also show that the seats in general were 77.28% ergonomically unsuitable and only 22.72% of the seats were ergonomically engineered.

The results show that the workstations were 61.8% poorly ergonomically engineered and the remaining 38.2% ergonomically engineered.

Therefore, most of the reported incidences in the back, neck and shoulders (Table 4.07) are relatively high and are most likely the result of working with constrained postures, poorly designed workstations and non-ergonomic tools.

Table 4.12 environmental conditions at the workplace.

Environmental conditionsAppropriateUncomfortablepoor
Lighting conditions78205
Noise levels136921
Vibration levels226612

The lighting conditions, noise levels and vibration levels in the firms were uncomfortable to 50.2% of the workers; appropriate to 36.6% and poor to 13.2% 0f the workers. These data suggest rapid turnover of the workforce, which are typical of most of the Ugandan apparel manufacturing industries, and imply that a severe human cost was embedded in the work. In addition, working hours in the plants were lengthy by the standards of the industrialized countries.

Table 4.13 Workers’ training

Worker’s trainingYesNo
Proper posture598
Proper work methods0103
When and how to adjust workstations2083

The workers’ training was generally poor. Among the workers interviewed only 17.9% had the training, whereas the remaining 82.1 % lacked training.these results are supported also by Table 4.03, where 58.25% of the workers attained only primary education and 36.9% attained secondary education whereas only five workers out of 103 went for university education.

Therefore, if at all a worker was not trained in proper working posture, proper work methods, how to adjust workstation, and the safety measures and first aid in school, then the chances of him or her getting training at work are 17.9% in Ugandan apparel production plants.

Table 4.14 interview and Observation results in the apparel production plants
Firms/ plants observed (names not disclosed)

ObservationFirms/plants where the activity was observed
Jobs are varied with respect to products, processes, and were performed both individually and in groupsAll except B and F
Jobs were not organized wellAll
Tasks were repetitive and tended to be burdensome to workersAll
Workplace congested and sitting postures were typically uncomfortable. Leaning forward was commonAll
Time schedules were tight and often required hurrying in performing taskAll except A
Rest pauses were few and short when takenAll except A
Seats lacked back rest, which would have allowed breaks for resting the upper body after stressful sessions of bending the trunk and neckAll
Many seats were hard and woodenAll
Sharp bending of the neck was common, combined with sharp bending of the trunk among taller workers or moderate bending among short workersAll
Equipment, including sewing machines, was generally oldAll
There was a general fear of being dismissed for reporting stressful or unsafe working conditionsAll except A and B
Temperatures were 3-4 degrees Celsius higher than the outside temperature due to lack of air conditioning in the plantAll


  1. Most Jobs were varied with respect to products, processes, and operations, and were performed both individually and in groups.
  2. All the jobs in the firms were not organized.
  3. Jobs were neither well-structured nor routinely organized.
  4. All tasks were generally repetitive and burdensome to workers.
  5. All workspace was congested and sitting postures were typically constrained and uncomfortable. Leaning forward was common.
  6. In most firms, time schedules were tight and often required hurrying in performing tasks.
  7. In all firms except one firm only, rest pauses were few and short when taken.
  8. All seats lacked of a backrest.
  9. In all firms many seats were hard and wooden.
  10. In all firms sharp bending of the neck was common, combined with sharp bending of the trunk among taller workers or moderate bending among short workers.
  11. Equipment, including sewing machines, was generally old in all firms.
  12. There was a general fear of being dismissed for reporting stressful or unsafe working conditions in almost all firms except only in two firms.
  13. In all firms, temperatures were 3-4 degrees Celsius higher than the outside temperature due to lack of air conditioning in the plant.


5.0 Introduction
This chapter presents the recommendations and conclusions of the Uganda apparel production plant workplaces conducted in the ergonomics point of view and attempts to give solutions to problems found out as a result of the study.

5.1 Recommendations

5.1.0 Proper tools
Tools should be appropriate for the specific tasks being performed. Tools should allow the worker to keep the hands and wrists straight. (Ahasan, 2002)

5.1.1 Proper work postures
For seated and standing work, the height of the workstation should allow workers to function with elbows at 90 degrees. During seated work, if a good back support is not present or used, static postures occur which results in constant use of the back muscles. It is important to adjust the workstation in order to allow the worker to use the backrest. (Ahasan et al, 2000)

It is also important to adjust the worker’s chair to allow duties to be performed with their bodies in comfortable positions. The workstation and chair should be positioned so that the worker’s knees, hips, and elbows are at 90 degrees, which will reduce stress on the body. There should also be enough room to allow the worker to change their sitting position throughout the day. (Bongers et al, 2002).

Static postures can also occur during standing work. If the worker stands in one position for long periods of time, muscles of the back and legs will be constantly activated. This can lead to increased fatigue, and decreased blood circulation to the legs. During the day, workers should try to walk around to allow their blood to flow. As well, workers should try and sit for short periods of time while working to give their leg and back muscles a rest. (Blader et al, 1991)

Awkward wrist postures are one of the major causes of cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), tendinitis, and muscle strains. Awkward wrist postures are those which take the wrist away from the neutral position. Neutral position is when the hand is in line with the forearm. The workstation should be adjusted and the worker educated on awkward wrist postures, their harmful effects, and the signs and symptoms of CTD’s. (Chan et al, 2002)

5.1.2 Keep repetitive motions to a minimum
Workstations or tasks should be redesigned to reduce the number of repetitive motions that must be performed. To prevent ergonomic injuries workers should be encouraged to rotate tasks or take frequent, short breaks to stretch and relax muscles. Work stations should allow enough space for the tasks have appropriate working height, and provide proper seating. Manufacturing tools and machinery used in the firms should incorporate ergonomic design principles and should not require an excessive amount of force to operate. Some tasks should be automated or redesigned to eliminate repetitive movements and musculoskeletal injuries. (Halpern et al, 1997)

5.1.3 Use safe lifting procedures
Workers should avoid lifting objects that are too heavy. Use more than one person or a mechanical device to reduce the load. The workstation should not require the workers to lift objects above their heads or twist their backs while lifting. (Halpern et al, 1997)

5.1.4 Get proper rest
The workers need to rest their body and mind in order to prevent injuries. Workers should give their muscles a rest during coffee breaks, lunches and weekends by doing something different from what they do at job. For example, if a worker stands all day, while performing a job he/she should sit down to rest the legs and feet during the breaks. If a worker sits down, when working, he/she should stand up and walk around during breaks to give the back a rest and to increase circulation in the legs. By doing this the musculoskeletal injuries can be prevented. (Chan et al, 2002)

5.1.5 Other things to consider
Garment workers can avoid eye injuries by using proper shields on high-speed sewing machinery or safety glasses where appropriate.

Furniture and other equipment used in the plant should be ergonomically engineered to prevent injuries. The seats should adjust easily, have padded seat, have adjustable backrest provide lumbar support and have casters. The equipment and workstations should be adjustable, give sufficient space for the body and be used by both left-handed and right-handed with ease.

Also, adequate task lighting at individual workstations can prevent eyestrain. Some garment manufacturing equipment can be very loud, so proper hearing protection may be necessary.

Because a garment factory uses many heated processes, it is important for workers to avoid heat stress by labeling and guarding hot surfaces and drinking plenty of water during their shift. Proper ventilation can help to reduce ambient temperatures and ensure worker comfort. (Sarder et al, 1996)

Training of the workers on the proper use of machines and equipment is very important, proper posture, proper work method, when and how to adjust workstations and about safety measures and first aid. (Vihma. T, 1981)

5.2 Conclusions
This study examined the ergonomic work conditions in the apparel manufacturing plants in Uganda. Questionnaire survey responses and observations of the physical workplace pertaining the working conditions showed clear evidence of work practices, workplace conditions and equipment designs that were detrimental to productivity, health and safety.

The garment industry should therefore focus and develop a good working conditions to reduce the injuries created to their workers since there is ample room for ergonomic improvements in the clothing industry. With proper training and instruction, machine guarding, personal protective equipment and ergonomically designed work systems, garment workers can manufacture products in safe and healthy workplaces.

It seems that the tradition of management, owners and workers themselves know and understand that the ergonomic conditions in the apparel production plants are worse but they are ignorant about the solutions. Therefore, there is need for ergonomic interventions to make changes that have been considered. It is, therefore, logical, as done in this study, to suggest changes that are modest, for gaining acceptability to management.

Recommendations made to management in this study that included furniture and other equipment improvements were combined with improved line balancing of the manufacturing process. The implementation of these recommendations should yield significant improvements in productivity and the effects on the workers over a relatively short period of time.

Unless the work culture changes significantly, it would always be difficult to implement changes that alleviate suffering and ill health among workers in societies where unemployed people wait in abundance for a chance to work, and where their introduction into the workplace is seen as an alternative to spending money and other resources to improve work conditions.

My main objective was to evaluate the working conditions in the garment plants of Uganda from an ergonomics/human factors perspective and to suggest possible solutions to deal with observed problems in order to avail a better working environment with minimum or no threats to the workers.

Since the problems have been identified and solutions stressed out in the light of the problem. Therefore, if solutions are taken, the workplace for the worker should have a decreased risk of injury and also to improve the link between the worker and their environment.


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