Health & Safety in the Call Centre


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Entering the call centre environment can be completely overwhelming – it is a different world. The experience is too fast, too loud, too bright, too condensed, and too stressful. Turnover of staff is increasing due to Companies not knowing what to look for.

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Health & Safety in the Call Centre

  1. 1. Health & Safety inthe Contact Centre
  2. 2. Contact centres have a unique set of health and safety risks to people whodo this kind of work.Manual tasks - Contact centresPsychosocial hazards - Contact centresOccupational stressWorkplace bullyingViolence and client aggression in contact centresFatigue - Contact centresVisual fatigueVocal fatigueNoise - Contact centresSedentary work - Contact centresWhat are the risks?
  3. 3. Contact centre operators may be exposed to the risk of musculoskeletalinjury (e.g. soft tissue injuries to the neck, shoulder, back, wrists, and hands)as a result of hazardous manual tasks involving:Working postures (such as sitting at a workstation in awkward or sustainedpositions) which can result in straining affected body parts or discomfort due toreduced blood flow through the muscles.Repetitive movements such as repeatedly performing similar movements using thesame body parts continuously. This may result in increased wear and tear of bodytissue and greater potential for muscle fatigue.Duration (or long periods of time doing similar activities without a break from theseactivities) of a task can have a substantial effect on the likelihood of both general andmuscle fatigue.Manual tasks - Contact centres
  4. 4. Contact centre operators often work in the same position (usually seated) forprolonged periods. This can lead to fatigue or overexertion, or can contribute toinjuries, such as sprains or strains. Due to the nature of contact centre work, there is alimited variety in the tasks that operators are required to perform.Effective strategies to encourage regular changes in operators’ posture/activityinclude:implement task varietyschedule/encourage short regular breaks away from workstation.promote and encourage workers to stand up and move around the workstation at appropriatetimes during or between callstake micro pauses (e.g. moving the hand off the mouse/keyboard when not using them)locate printing/fax/forms away from the workstation to encourage movementWhen scheduling work breaks, consider the location of amenities, including the distance awayfrom the work area, to allow adequate time to access these amenities.Ways to minimise - Breaks and task variation
  5. 5. Psychosocial hazards are aspects of the work environment and the way that work isorganised that are associated with psychiatric, psychological and/or physical injuryor illness..Work environment poses a unique combination of risks to psychologicalhealth including:high emotional demandsconsistently high levels of customer servicehigh levels of work monitoring through systems and by supervisorsperceptions of low organisational, supervisor, and/or peer support.What are Psychosocial hazards?
  6. 6. Psychosocial illness and injury risks to contact centre workers can be identified andassessed:through anonymous surveyseffective consultative practiceseffective communication processesreview of injury reportsreview of absence data.How to assess the risks
  7. 7. Occupational stress describes the physical, mental, and emotional reactions ofworkers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities and/or theirresources (such as time, access to help/support) to do the work.Occupational stress risk factors include:high mental, emotional and/or physical work demandslow control over work and the way it is organisedlow levels of support from supervisors and peerslack of role clarity or increased role confusionpoorly managed workplace conflictpoorly managed organisational changea poor workplace justice climatelow levels of worker recognition and reward.What is Occupational stress?
  8. 8. ensure workers have adequate trainingensure supervisors are adequately trained to provide timely and appropriateperformance management in a reasonable mannerensure work demands are realistic and within workers abilities, particularlyduring peak periodsregularly review workloads to ensure workers have sufficient time and supportto meet their work demandsencourage workers to speak up at an early stage if they feel their taskdemands are excessiveencourage workers to seek guidance from management about prioritiesensure workers concerns are recorded in a register and reviewedWays to minimise
  9. 9. Workplace bullying can be defined as repeated behaviour by a person(s) at theworkplace that the worker considers unwelcome and unsolicited and that otherswould also find to be:offensiveintimidatinghumiliating, orthreatening (other than sexual harassment).What is workplace bullying (harassment) ?
  10. 10. Workplace bullying covers a wide range of behaviours ranging from subtleintimidation to more obvious aggressive tactics, including:abusing a person loudly, usually when others are presentrepeated threats of dismissal or other severe punishment for no reasonleaving offensive messages on email or the telephonesabotaging a persons work, for example, by deliberately withholding or supplyingincorrect information, hiding documents or equipment, not passing on messagesand getting a person into trouble in other waysmaliciously excluding and isolating a person from workplace activitiespersistent and unjustified criticisms, often about petty, irrelevant or insignificantmattershumiliating a person through gestures, sarcasm, criticism and insults, often in frontof customers, management or other workersspreading gossip or false, malicious rumours about a person with an intent tocause the person harm.What is workplace bullying - Continued
  11. 11. develop and communicate a workplace bullying prevention policyimplement a system to manage informal and formal complaintsreview the effectiveness of human resource systemsprovide training and education on appropriate workplace behaviour to all workersensure senior management model appropriate behavioursintervene early in workplace conflict to avoid the conflict escalatingpromote open communication channels at the workplace to increase the informalresolution of conflictWays to minimise risks from workplace bullying include:
  12. 12. Violence at work is defined as any incident in which a person is abused, threatenedor assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This definition includes verbal orphysical aggression directed at workers from contact centre clients or members ofthe public. Contact centre workers may be exposed to verbal abuse from clients andmembers of the public either face to face or over the phone.Factors which can increase the risk of violence and client aggression includesituations where:there are long waiting times for clientsthere is an increased reliance on clients using automated technologythere is a need for workers to suppress emotions (such as anger or frustration)there is an over-reliance on shiftwork and/or provision of 24 hour services.What is violence and client aggression at work?
  13. 13. Develop & implement workplace policies and procedures to inform workers on howto respond to threats from clients including violence, aggression and self-harmensure workers have easy access to procedures to deal with violence and clientaggressionprovide timely support for contact centre workers following interactions withaggressive clientsallow contact centre workers access to breakout areas to take a short breakfollowing interactions with aggressive clientsprovide workers access to employee assistance programs or other counsellingservices.Ways to minimise risks
  14. 14. Working night shifts, long hours or broken shifts can cause fatigue in contact centreworkers.Several work and non-work factors are related to fatigue at work including:inadequate amounts of sleep due to any cause (e.g. medical disorders, longcommuting times, extended work hours and overtime)disruption to sleep cyclespoor quality sleepemotional issueslifestyle factors.What causes fatigue in contact centre workers?
  15. 15. Visual fatigue occurs when certain eye muscles tighten during visually intense tasks,including continuously focusing on computer monitors. The tightening of the eyemuscles can cause the eyes to get irritated and uncomfortable.Contact workers can experience visual fatigue because their work involves:using one or more computer monitorstedious visual tasks that require the worker to focus on computer monitors forextended, uninterrupted periods of time.What are the symptoms of visual fatigue?sore eyesblurred visiontired eyesheadaches.What is visual fatigue?
  16. 16. install adjustable monitors, keyboards, desktops, document holders, footrests,chairs and headsetsinstall high resolution visual display unit monitors and larger screensinstall software that is easy to understand and operatekeep monitor screens free from glare and reflections by controlling ambient lightconditions, position monitor to control glare and minimise reflectionsreduce the dust in the work environmentEncourage workers to use good work practices such as:adjust monitor brightness and contrast settingskeep the monitor screen clean, (that is free from dust and smears)place reference material in the best position to maximise visual comfortuse appropriate font, font size and colours on monitorsexercise and stretch the eye muscles - use pop-up reminders to prompt userstake regular and frequent breaks (in addition to scheduled and personal breaks)see an optometrist if having problems. This is especially important for thoseworkers who wear multifocal lenses.Ways to minimise the visual fatigue
  17. 17. Excessive talking can affect both the voice and the throat. Contact centres whereinbound and outbound calls are constant are likely to cause more vocal fatigue thana contact centre where calls are less frequent or involve administrative duties.Other factors that may affect vocal fatigue include:how repetitive the talking isconsumption of coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks that dehydrate the body andvoiceposition of the call handlers microphone - if incorrect it may cause excessive vocalfeedback, or cause the call handler to raise their voice to be heard.What causes vocal fatigue?
  18. 18. Total or intermittent loss of voiceChanges in pitch and restricted pitch rangeDecrease in volumePitch breaks on words or phrasesConstant throat clearingVoice fades out at the end of a sentenceDryness in the throat and excessive mucousSensation of lump or pain in the throatIncreased effort to talkDifficulty in swallowingShortness of breath.What are the symptoms of vocal fatigue?
  19. 19. minimise background noise levelsprovide volume controls on the headsetdevelop reasonable call targets so that voice overuse is not encouragedensure calls are rotated between call handlers - to prevent calls being received ata single stationwrite scripts that include pausesprovide regular voice breaks - five minutes of non-vocal time per hourarrange more non-vocal time, where the volume of calls is high or the work isvery repetitiveprovide easy access to drinking waterprovide training on headset use - positioning of microphone, volume controls, aswell as voice care training and awareness.Ways to ensure vocal health
  20. 20. How are contact centre workers exposed to noise?Most contact centres operate as an open office type environment exposing workersto noise from a number of different sources, including:ringing phonesvoices of other workersoffice equipmentCustomersA background noise level greater than 60 dB(A) could cause the call handler to turnup the volume on the headset to hear over the noise. This practice may increase therisk of acoustic shock occurring as well as noise induced hearing loss in the longterm if acoustic shock protection devices are not attached to headsets.Noise in the Contact Centre
  21. 21. use sound absorbent materials and partitions of a suitable height in the design ofcontact centre work stations and breakout areasensure office equipment such as printers and photocopiers are separated fromthe immediate work areaidentify and remove faulty telephone lines and headsetshold team meetings and briefings outside the immediate work areaencourage workers to not speak loudly or to hold conversations near callhandlers, particularly during shift changeovertrain call handlers to control voice levels.Ways to minimise the risks
  22. 22. Contact centre workers may experience acoustic incidents such as a sudden loudshriek or piercing tone through their headsets. This can lead to an acute startleresponse and/or pain in the ear. Rarely some operators experience on-goingsymptoms. This is more common where workers have high levels of stress.What is an acoustic incident?
  23. 23. attach acoustic output limiter devices to headsetsreduce the level of background noise in the contact centreensure damaged equipment and network faults are repaired promptlyensure call handlers are trained in the proper fitting and use of headsets to reducefeedbackimplement policies and procedures for identifying and removing faulty headsetsimplement a mobile phone policy that prevents the use of mobile phones in thecontact centretrain call handlers and supervisors in identifying an acoustic incidentWays to minimise the risks
  24. 24. Call handlers wear headsets for long periods of time during their working day.This may present an increased risk of ear irritation and infection.Headset hygiene should be maintained to prevent the spread of infectiousdiseases such as common colds and influenza.Control strategies include:supply each agent with a personal headsettrain all agents in the regular cleaning and maintenance of headsetsprovide telephone, wireless or appropriate corded headsets that allow theoperator to stand up and move aroundensure that the headset is appropriately adjusted to suit the operatorprovide headsets with double earpieces to minimise external noiseHeadset hygiene
  25. 25. Contact centre workers spend a large part of their working day sitting in front of acomputer monitor in what is defined as sedentary work (i.e. prolonged periods ofinactivity, and an absence of whole body movement). The human body is designedfor movement and should alternate between sitting, standing and activities such aswalking.Benefits of sitting less and moving more include:lower risk of musculoskeletal pain, discomfort and injury, particularly of the lowerback and necklower risk of developing coronary heart diseaselower risk of developing diabeteslower risk of eye strain or fatiguehealthy maintenance of the circulatory system and digestive tract.Sedentary work - Contact centres
  26. 26. Ways to minimise the health and safety risks from sedentary work include:use job task variationprovide height adjustableuse cordless headsets that allow call handlers to stand and move aroundpromote and support standing team meetingsensure all workers take regular and frequent breaks throughout the dayencourage workers to take meal breaks away from their deskslocate printers, photocopiers and water coolers away from the workstationalternate between sitting, standing and walking.Ways to minimise risks from Sedentary work