Posted by: Mike Clarke
You may not require a hard hat to work in a contact centre, but that doesn’t mean the environment is without risk. To thrive, we need to focus on keeping our staff safe and ensuring they are always comfortable in the workplace. I’ve broken down five of the most common Health and Safety risks associated with contact centres and outlined actions to mitigate these risks within your environment.
Remember that Health and Safety is not something that is done once and forgotten. You need to ensure that all safety standards have been adhered to and that any processes you instigate are regularly reviewed.
Common Bugs and Viruses
The recent lockdowns likely drilled this message home, but a virus thrives in a closed environment, especially those with communal areas, shared equipment and recycled airflow. This makes contact centres the perfect environment for viruses to spread.
We can address these issues in many ways within the office, starting with maintaining a strict cleaning regime and encouraging staff to use hand sanitisers regularly. For example, they should frequently wipe down desks and communal devices such as keyboards and mice. Agents should each have their own headset, which should always be given a thorough clean and a new foam ear cushion before being given to someone else.
You can utilise digital storage to allow people to share information without a physical exchange taking place. It is also recommended that you reduce the number of things that can be passed around, such as paperwork. Going paper-free would be ideal. While it’s not viable in every situation, it increases security at the same time as reducing costs and helping the environment, so it’s worth looking into.
Unfortunately, some people will come into the office when they are unwell, either due to fear of losing wages or the risk of disciplinary action for poor attendance. However, punishing staff for taking time off when they’re genuinely unwell is always counter-productive. Whatever they're suffering from will likely spread among your team, leading to more significant issues than the loss of one person for a few days.
The pandemic taught us that working from home is often viable. You may not typically operate a work from home policy at the moment, but plenty contact centre solutions now exist that make this simple to implement from a technological standpoint provided it’s not prohibited by other factors. If available, this flexibility can encourage staff to keep germs out of the office environment without losing productivity.
Contact centre environments can serve a variety of functions. You may run a thriving outbound sales department or inbound customer service centre. When working to achieve targets or dealing with customers, you have an x-factor that you need to consider – mental health.
You can’t see what your staff are thinking, and they could be smiling through the day while suffering in silence. You may assume they handled a difficult call well while something the customer said may have impacted them and started a negative spiral of emotion in the agent.
Mental health is something we have begun to talk about more publicly in recent years and more and more people are beginning to talk openly about issues they’re experiencing giving them a path to finding the help and support they need. While you can’t remove the risk of events occurring that impact our team’s mental health, you can ensure you provide a positive, supportive environment.
A good starting point is to ensure you have adequate policies and training in place combined with a clear and confidential support path your team can turn to should they need to. Supporting your staff extends to technology as well, and ensuring they have the right tools to do the job they are hired to do will always pay dividends.
Introducing gamification into the environment is an excellent way to turn small achievements and milestones into success the whole team can be engaged with. This doesn’t need to involve technology and there’s a wealth of ideas for motivational games that can take place to brighten up your environment without disrupting productivity. Whether through team incentives or regular nights out, fostering a team mentality can be a great way to support your staff and will help individuals to gain the confidence to speak out if they are struggling.
Contact centres are typically comprised of agents sitting for long periods at their workstations. Carrying out repetitive, small motions for extended periods, such as typing or using a mouse, is a textbook way to develop repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Sitting down for most of the day risks back pain and neck pain, and many other afflictions that develop from a sedentary atmosphere.
You can approach this in several ways. First and foremost, you need to ensure you provide suitable equipment. A chair isn’t just a chair, and a desk isn’t just a desk. While it’s possible to spend £20 on an office chair, anything cheaper than £100 is likely to cost you far more in the long run. You need to invest in ergonomic design to ensure that your staff aren’t forced into uncomfortable positions and can adjust their sitting position regularly throughout the day while remaining comfortable.
Desks that can be adjusted for working while seated or standing are also a great option that allows your team to stretch and stand whilst continuing to work. While these are probably too expensive to provide as standard, they can be a great adjustment for staff at risk of injury or those looking for reasonable adjustments to be put in place.
Footrests, wrist rests and ergonomic keyboards and mice also provide relatively cheap ways to help staff avoid injury from office based work.
In addition to office furniture, it is advised that you allow staff to stand up and move around for 2-3 minutes every half hour. It’s also recommended that they take a 5-minute break from staring at a screen every hour to reduce headaches and eye strain.
Remember that even if your contact centre staff are working from home, you still have a responsibility to ensure they have appropriate equipment and furniture to use. You’ll need to ensure that your employment contracts include details of employee’s responsibilities should they take work equipment home with them or if you purchase equipment to be delivered to their home, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your teams’ set-up is wholly their responsibility if their engaged in home working.
Training should include showing your staff the correct way to sit and the correct way to type to reduce the likelihood of injury. While you might struggle to get younger members of your workforce to engage with this kind of training, helping them understand the risks and how a few simple adjustments can help remove those risks should help. If individuals work all day at a PC, then go home and spend most of their leisure time playing on a PC or games console, they’re never too young to be at risk of RSI.
Investing in bespoke software solutions and ensuring they’re deployed correctly can also provide a huge health benefit. An overlooked contributor to repetitive strain injury that can be avoided is the technology we use. Imagine you are using an out-of-the-box contact centre software solution that is built for a general audience. In that case, you may be completing multiple steps on every call that aren’t relevant. Utilising a bespoke solution that accurately mirrors your employees’ workflow can substantially reduce the number of clicks and keystrokes required on every call.
If we use an example of removing just two steps for each call, and the agent handles 80 calls a day, that’s an additional 160 actions they need to take. Removing these increases efficiency, saves time, and reduces the strain on your agent.
Fire safety in offices is a considerable risk to life. Fire drills need to be run routinely; even if this will impact your business operations, this cannot be avoided. You must have clearly defined processes, and these processes need to be known by every member of your staff.
New corporate offices will have undergone fire safety inspections during the construction. Ensuring suitable materials are used and that the fire escapes function etc. Any building built before 1985 may have used asbestos in its construction, which poses a significant additional risk in the event of a fire. If there’s any chance this applies to your office building, you need to book an inspection without delay.
All electrical equipment should be regularly PAT tested and risk accessed and all electrical sockets should have the correct load on them. “Daisy chaining” power extension boards off one another is an excellent way to increase fire risk as is allowing staff to plug in their own devices such as phone chargers.
In addition to the environment being tested and checked, you need to evaluate the ability of your staff to react in the event of a fire. If you employ staff with disabilities, they may not be able to hear a fire alarm, or if they struggle with walking, they may require assistance to exit the building. You will need to have staff responsible for such individuals in an emergency, and backup if they’re not in the office.
How you layout your office may adjust the pathway to the nearest exit. Appropriate training can help develop a culture of fire risk awareness in your office, so things such as deliveries being left blocking fire escapes are quickly spotted and remedied.
Did you know that fire alarms can also lead to our next category, accidents? When a fire alarm goes off, it can lead to panic, with people rushing to the exit and ignoring usual safety procedures. The way to combat this is by doing regular fire drills and ensuring the staff know what to expect.
If you need help with fire safety there are many businesses that are there to provide on-site training, fire extinguishers, risk assessment and more. The investment is definitely worth it and will help assure your team that you take their safety seriously.
It’s easy to overlook the risk of general accidents. You may not consider the likelihood of tripping or falling in the workplace to be worth worrying about and you may question what type of an accident could occur from sitting at a computer for hours.
It’s exactly because people dismiss these risks that makes them more likely to occur. Common accidents such as tripping or slipping on the floor can seem cliché, but for older or vulnerable team members can have serious consequences. These are simple things we can predict and take action to prevent by keeping clear floors and encouraging people to take their time and not rush around the office.
Unfortunately, other accidents are unpredictable. Ensuring your staff are well-rested and remain focused and engaged are the best defence against accidents. While some accidents are genuinely unavoidable, some just require people to be a little more observant and purposeful in their actions to mitigate. As before, regular training with the intention of creating a health and safety aware culture in the workplace is your best defence.
How to Move Forward
None of the topics covered above is an in-depth review and no-one outside your business can solve these problems for you. This post aims to encourage you to ask those questions about your operation and the environment you and your team works in.
The list also isn’t exhaustive. However, by taking a proactive approach to the health and safety of the people you work with, your whole team can start to take a positive approach to improving workplace safety, reducing risk and making your contact centre a better place to work.