Remember that under the Health and Safety Act, employers are required to provide a "safe system of work" and a healthy and safe workplace, so if the work done in call centres makes people ill, it is unsafe and OHS reps should negotiate improvements.
As with all workplace hazards, call centre hazards should be dealt with in this way:
- Identification of the hazard
- Assessment of the risk
- Control: Elimination or reduction of the risk
- Review and evaluation of any control strategies.
1 - Identification of the hazard
- Talk to your members about the hazards associated with working in call centres and the possible health and safety effects
- Consider doing a "mapping" exercise with them, or carrying out a survey
2 - Assessment of the risk
- Make sure your members report all cases of discomfort or loss of voice, soreness of muscles (eg back or shoulder pain), sight or hearing problems, incidents of acoustic shock, incidents with callers, and so on.
- Advise your members to consult their doctor and where necessary assist them in making a claim for workers compensation
- Make sure your employer provides you with access to all records, including incident reports, compensation claims and so on.
3 - Control: Elimination or reduction of the risk
With regard to some of the specific problems mentioned above, following are a number of suggestions on what to negotiate with your employer:
- Provision of water so staff can drink regularly while working and the job should be designed so there are rest periods for the voice as well as other body parts (eg. arms to avoid the risk of overuse injuries).
- Regular eye tests, frequent breaks away from the screen, additional lighting where needed etc
- Recognition that angry callers are a problem and the establishment of systems so that harassed staff:
- have the ability to resolve problems (often lack of ability to respond adequately to problems will further anger callers)
- can pass difficult callers or issues on to a supervisor
- can remove themselves from calls until they have been able to recuperate
- Ergonomic workstations (for advice see the ACTU Guidelines for Screen Based Work)
- Regular breaks - workers should be able to take breaks that are not too short, often. All negotiated breaks should be taken by all workers. The ACTU Guidelines also cover breaks.
- To prevent acoustic shock occurring checks on the system used before installation and regularly during use to ensure peaks are not being broadcast. Noise limiters can be put on the system to deal with problems with both acoustic shock and noisy headsets.
- Reduction of office noise so that workers do not need to have headset volumes too loud.
- Ensuring hygienic headsets by providing each worker with their own headset, and somewhere to keep it in out of work hours. There should also be a system in place to keep the headsets clean and sanitised with regular maintenance and replacement where necessary.
The UK's HSE has conducted research into psychological risk factors of working in call centers which you can access here.
For references and more information, go to this page.
Last amended February 2015