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I work in a call centre. What are the main health hazards?
Your call centre job involves many of the same health and safety hazards found in any modern office, especially the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI) from working with a computer, mouse and keyboard.
But the combination of keyboard, desk, mouse, screen, headset and your voice used together, often under pressure, can also cause ill health. The safety risks from this combination of stresses is not well understood.
Research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found significantly higher stress levels in frontline call handlers than in benchmark groups in other occupations. The lack of control staff have over the fast pace and flow of work contributes a great deal to work-related stress and dissatisfaction. HSE guidance also points to inappropriate monitoring as a source of stress.
The Unite union's guide to Health and safety in call centres (PDF, 158KB) says that call centre staff turnover is estimated at between 20% and 80% a year, and that a large part of this ‘burn out’ results from stress. It identifies some of the possible causes as:
- monotonous work;
- lack of control;
- VDU work;
- abuse from customers;
- frequent repetitive tasks;
- high workload fluctuations;
- long periods at the workstation;
- shift work and unsociable hours;
- inappropriate noise;
- the pace of work; and
- badly designed workstations and working environment.
A study by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found that one in four call centre agents suffer voice problems, including voice loss, sore throats and breathlessness, because managers are failing to protect their health. Up to 60% of workers reported having difficulty making themselves heard against background noise and 41% said they had failed to be heard by the customer on the other end of the line. Researchers found that new starters, especially female workers, were at particularly high risk.