Health, Safety and Working Conditions in a Contact Center

(A Case Study done by the Occupational Safety and Health Center, Department of Labor and Employment)

 “What are call contact centers?

     A contact center is a central customer service operation where agents, often called customer care specialists or customer service representatives handle telephone calls on behalf of a client. Contact center workers use telephones and computers to conduct their business. The services provided by the contact centers include Technical support or customer care,Ticket booking, Telemarketing, Market research and survey, Financial services, Fundraising, medical services, among others.

      “Work in contact centers is highly standardized and controlled. Operators give rote responses taken from per- written scripts and manuals and ,hours of the work is controlled by computers. Electronic performance, onto ring of work volume, error rates, voice quality and content of telephone conversations is done remotely.

 x x x x

 “What are the occupational safety and health conditions in contact centers

     “x x x Among the identified health problems in contact center employees were pains in the neck/shoulder, wrist and back areas. These problems were associated with poor workstation design such as computer monitors placed above eye level, work surfaces that were to high or non-adjustable chairs. Other factors mentioned that contribute to the development of muscle and joint pains were long uninterrupted hours of work with the computer, invariable and sedentary work and low job satisfaction.

      “Another health issue that affects contact enter operators is the risk of having voice problems. Symptoms noted were dry and itchy throat, hoarseness, frequent clearing of throat. One of the factors identified to contribute to the problem is the high demand on the vocal system because of the interactive nature of the task of contact center operators. Workers also reported eye strain associated with the physical environment such as poor lighting conditions and uninterrupted use of computers.

      “the major psychosocial and work organization stressors identified by participants include: very little job security fearing that their call center might close suddenly; dealing with rude clients; unrealistic performance quotas assessed in terms of call rates, call times, sales quotas; constant electronic performance monitoring; and random taping of phone conversations. Other job stressors identified were work schedules that interfere with family and social life; very early or late shifts created transportation problems and concerns for safety and performing simplified, highly fragmented, repetitive, fast paced workloads. The interaction of these psychosocial factors and other work related and other work factors have been related to injury and other health issues in the workplace.

      “Contact center workers have been documented to have occasional exposure to higher noise levels, for example from fax tones, holding tones, and high pitched tones from mobile telephones.  High sound levels in the room may also occur from the simultaneous talking of the employees.  Though it is recognized that in general, the levels of noise transmitted through the headsets or levels present in the contact centers are incapable of damaging the ear directly, a large number of workers studied were concerned that their hearing was being damaged as a result of exposure to noise at work.

 “Significance

      “In 2001 to 2002, the study was conducted to add to the little knowledge available on OSH issues related with contact centers. x x x In the Philippines, there is a lack, if not total absence, of information on occupational safety and health conditions in contact centers.  The OSH standards cover practically all workplaces in the formal sector but the peculiarity of certain hazards and risks in Contact Centers needed addressing.

      “In addition to susceptibility to health problems from computer use, contact center workers have to deal with work organization and psychosocial factors such as fear of not being able to meet performance quotas, anxiety over constant electronic monitoring of performance, predominant night work to coincide with regular working hours in Northern America or Europe, disruption in social and domestic life and safety concerns because of night work.

      “This rapidly expanding industry also has to deal with concerns of  women especially working mothers as well as with work issues of young workers.  It also related to the aspirations of young workers in terms of career opportunities and training.

 Results of the Study:

 

     “The main objective of this study was to determine the prevailing safety and health conditions and to look at the nature and frequency of job-related complaints among the workers.  By undertaking this study, the study team was able to find out critical information about aspects of contact center work that influences the health and well-being of workers.

 

   “The results of the study showed that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) significantly impact the well-being of workers.  As demonstrated by the results of the study, the health complaints commonly reported by the respondents were MSDs affecting the upper back, neck and lower back.  Ergonomic risk factors observed that contributed to these disorders were highly repetitive typing or mouse use, static muscle contractions from postural fixation such as prolonged sitting brought about by intensive computer use, inadequate workplace dimensions and layout, unfavorable physical environment, and long working hours.

 

     “Visual symptoms can be linked to conditions surrounding computer use in the contact center.  Glare, inappropriate monitor heights, long hours of computer work, dry cold air, and high air speed have been associated with eyes train in many epidemiological studies.  These conditions were identified in all the Contact Centers visited during the conduct of the study.  Furthermore, computer work is associated with elevated viewing angle, reduced blinking rate and widening of the ocular surface area that would consequence,t produce drying of the eyes and increased eye discomfort.

 

     “x x x The voice problems were associated with vocally demanding tasks in the company.  In fact, a study on the prevalence and risks factors for voice problems among telemarketers showed that telemarketers were twice as likely to report 1 or more symptoms of vocal attrition.  x x x complaints referable to hearing may emanate from the

Noise explore through headsets.  Making and receiving class present little disturbance, however, other sources of noise may crate problems for the workers.  Background. Noise may stem from within the workplace such as colleagues tailing simultaneously, music or. Noise coming from the other end. Extraneous high frequency noises from mobile telephones, fax tones or for. Bad line connection ,ay also expose workers to short-term high noise levels and cause ringing in the ears or decrease in hearing ability. Hearing problems may arise from sharing of headsets as this practice increases the risk of ear infection.

 

     “The odd work schedule is a peculiarity in contact. Enters in the Philippines. This is characterized by predominantly ninth work to coincide with the regular work hours of the clients in Northern America or Europe. Night work, thus, becomes an important occupational safety and health issues.  Prolonged nocturnal work forces the worker to invert the ‘activity-rest’ cycle and has been documented to have negative impact on the health and well-being of the workers.  Health effects may include sleep disorders, eating disturbances and gastrointestinal disorders, mental problems and cardiovascular disturbances.

 

     “Effects on work performances and efficiency leading to errors and accidents have also been documented. The increased use of caffeine, alcohol or drugs such as metaamphetamines or sleeping pills by workers trying to overcome the effects of fatigue or trying to get to sleep have also been observed.  Night shifts and weekend work may cause problems with the social and domestic lives of employees and their families.  The workers’ activities are essentially ‘out of synch’ with their families, friends and community in general.” x x x x x.

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