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CHAPTER 6 Recommendation and conclusion
The new Occupational Safety and Health Act 2005 make provision for how to cater and promote health, safety and welfare in working environments. The law makes health, safety and welfare provision not only for workers in the private and public sectors but also for expatriates, self-employed and guest employees. Indeed, one of the main objectives of this act is to reinforce, consolidate and update the legislation on safety and health at work to match the changes in the working conditions of employees brought by new technologies, plants and equipments as well as new hazards. As per section 5 of OSHA05 the employer has general duties as follows:
5. General Duties
- Every employer shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees.
- The employer shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, in particular
- provide and maintain a working environment;
- provide and maintain any plant or system of work;
- maintain any place of work under his control, including the means of access to, or egress from it, that is safe and without risks to health;
- Every employer shall consult representatives of his employees who sit on the Safety and Health Committee with a view to the making and maintenance of arrangements, which will enable him and his employees to cooperate effectively in promoting and developing measures to ensure the safety and health at work of the employees, and in checking the effectiveness of such measures.
b) ensure that use, handling, storage or transport of articles or substances is safe and withoutrisks to health;
c) provide and maintain adequate facilities and arrangements for the welfare at work of his employees;
d) provide information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure the safety and health at work of his employees;
e) ensure that any person not in his employment is not exposed to any risk to his safety or health.
After a thorough investigation of the problem has been made and results obtained and analysed, the following recommendations have been made concerning the factors affecting agent's well-being and performance taking into account the different provision made under the OSHA05
6.1 Solutions to nature of the work
In Chapter 4, figure 4.1 clearly shows that with respect to nature of work in call centres, opinion of respondents varied. The majority agree that call centre work was monotonous, tiresome, high demanding, stressful and they were usually referred as emotional labour. It is known that the Human Resource Department has a crucial role to provide support to employees' well-being within the organisation. Hence the following corrective actions should be taken at management level:
- Management need to implement job enlargement and enrichment strategies by maximising job control by restricting excessive call scripting that limit what employees should say to customers. Reducing the level of scripting, getting agents involvement and participation in job design and setting of organisations' targets and objectives will tighten employee relationship with the organisation and reduce employee stress.
- Work load with respect to the number of call can be alleviated by the introduction of more sophisticated call handling requirements such as decreasing the number of call per day, increasing the duration of the call and high skill customer interactions. This will lead to higher work motivation and better performance.
- Making employees more autonomous will allow them to have better control over their emotions. This situation will help the agents to reduce emotional dissonance between what they really feel and what they expressed and lead to better employee well-being.
- Fostering a positive work environment will encourage agents to be more productive and effective but also to achieve organisational success. Hence, management should adopt a more participative management style that is getting agents involve as much as possible.
- Reviewing remuneration schemes by the implementation of the cafeteria-style benefits plan where the agents are given the chance to select a benefit package according to their needs. However, before the implementation of this benefit package, employer should first respond to employees wants. In addition to their basic salary, bonuses, increment, medical benefits, insurance and allowances will influence employee's motivation to perform more in their tasks and enhance well-being.
- Finally, psychology training and emotional management programs can be provided to enhance employee well-being by reducing employees' job stress.
6.2 SOLUTIONS TO PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
It has been prove that a pleasant and agreeable physical environment can be a useful instrument to reduce stress and enhance employee well-being and occupational health. Hence appropriate control measure should be implemented with respect to the findings illustrated in figure 3.1 and in Table 7.2.
First of all, it has been noted that despite adopting good working postures, workers may suffer from musculoskeletal disorders from extended work in the same posture or from sitting still for prolonged periods. Hence the agents should be informed how to change their working position frequently throughout the day:
- Adjusting the chair and backrest so that the worker is more at ease to avoid slouching and adopting poor postures in the chair.
- Adopting frequent stretching of fingers, hands, arms, and torso to allow blood circulation.
- Encouraging the agents to take regular short breaks to stand up and walk around for a few minutes every 20 minutes or so.
However, management should see whether the chair provided to the agents are in good condition and repair. The basic parts of the chair such as back rest, seat and armrest are important elements to be considered for a safe and creative workstation:
- Provision of a chair with adjustable backrest so that there is no pressure on the backs of the legs and feet are flat on the floor or on the foot rest provided.
- The backrest should be in line with the S-Shape of the spine and provide adequate lumbar support. The backrest height should range from 48 to 63 cm high, while the backrestwidth should range from 35 to 48 cm wide. The backrest angle should be range from 103 to 112 degrees from the horizontal and the armrest height should range from 20 to 24 cm.
- The chair height should be appropriate for the agent and the work surface height. However if agents are tall, and feet do no rest flat on the floor, foot rest should be provided to them
- When purchasing chairs, management should see that they have wheels or castors which are suitable for the floor surface.
- Chair is adjustable from sitting position and that the upholstery is a breathable fabric.
Armrests, if provided, should be soft, allow relaxation of the shoulders and elbows to be close to the body. If the armrests cannot be properly adjusted, or if the worker feels that they interfere with the workstation and the amount of space, he/she may remove them or stop using them. Adjustable armrests may be positioned such that they support the lower arm and allow the upper arm to be close to the torso within a 90 to 120 degrees range.
It has been found that there is a strong relationship between the position of the VDU and employees suffering from ophthalmic migraine and a relationship between lighting system and visual fatigue. Therefore appropriate control measure should be implemented such as:
- The VDU should be position in such a way that it is at eye level and equipped with and adjustable screen position, adjustable brightness and contrast. To prevent reflections from screen and anti-glare device should be provided. Employers should ensure that VDU are located at right angle to windows.
- The luminaires or other forms of lighting may be arranged in rows and strategically located so as to follow a parallel path to the user's line of sight when facing the VDU.
- Filters may be used on lights and the use of indirect or shielded lighting must be adopted where possible to avoid intense or excessive levels of brightness or uneven lighting in the field of vision. Lamps must have glare shields to direct light away from the line of sight.
- Non-reflective surfaces for desktops, mouse, and other items in the immediate vision must be ensured. Equipment and furniture may also be relocated so as to provide sufficient level of attenuation and reflection of light based on their location in the office.
- Screen/monitor must be regularly dusted and cleaned to avoid dust accumulation forming layers of dust on the screen that can contribute to glare.
- Glare filters fixed onto the surface of the screen/monitor may help to reduce glare; however, the level of lighting in the office must be sufficient to ensure adequate screen visibility. As such, overhead lights equipped with louvers/”egg-crates” may be used to re-direct lighting.
- Ensure that wall colour is neutral and not too bright.
- The inclination of the monitor may be adjusted to control the level of reflection and lighting on the screen. This is especially useful in reducing the level of reflection from overhead lights.
- In terms of contrast for screen visibility and characters, the computer monitor may be set for dark characters against a light background; these are less affected by reflections than light characters on a dark background.
- Ceiling fluorescent lights are oriented lengthwise to the sides of the VDU and that the general room lighting is uniform and slightly dimmer than usual office lighting
6.3 Solutions to health and social effects of shift work
From the results in figure 5.1 and 5.2 respectively it was found that shift work was a major issue in call centre. The effect of shift work on the Circadian Rhythm of agents and this variation in turn was the major cause of Circadian Rhythm Sleeping Disorder. CRSD especially lack of sleep has proved to have an impact both the well-being and performance of the agents. Moreover, sleep loss was not the only issue as shift work also causes family conflicts, difficulties to maintain a normal social life and hobbies and leisure activities. Below is a set of recommendation that management can adopt to minimise both the health and social effects of shift work.
1. Safe procedure
Change in shift rosters/ schedule has proved to have an adverse effect on working and social lives of agents can. Management and employees should work in close collaboration to find solutions to control the health and social effect of shift work. Shift schedules should be developed and agreed by both the management and employees. Before any shift schedules is introduced it is important to identify the need for change to the existing shift system, the benefits and problems encountered by employees from the current shift. Moreover, if there has been mutual agreement between management and employees, appropriate information about the health and safety effects of shift work must be provided.
2. Length of shifts and working hours
The recommended number of working hours as per section 14 of the Employment Rights Act 2008 shall consist of 8 hours and may begin on any day of the week. However, a worker working on a shift work system may be required to work in excess but there should be a mutual agreement between the employer and employee on the number of hours of work to be performed.
Night shift is more frequent in call centres. Since it is difficult to remove the night shift system and because they work in collaboration with foreign companies, proper control measures should be adopted. As mentioned above in section 14 of the ERA08 night shifts also should not exceed the prescribed 8 hours.
Taking into account the circadian rhythm, it has been proved that the least activities happen at night, hence it is important to review the amount of work allocated to night shift agents and ensure that it is kept to the minimum. When scheduling night shift, management should make arrangements that there are enough agents working to prevent that any employee is not overloaded with work which will increase the stress.
Breaks during shifts
Planning of adequate and regular breaks usually two consecutive pauses of 15 minutes and meal break of 30 minutes are essential. Employers should encourage agents to take meal breaks time appropriately and not shorten to be able to complete their work and finish early. Moreover, it is vital to inform the agents the importance of the meal break rather than only smoking and going back to work. Appropriate meal will help to reduce digestive problem resulting from shift work. Canteen facilities should be provided with hot and nutritious meals and proper facilities for those who want to reheat their own food.
During shift scheduling, rest days should be well planned. The ERA08 make provision for rest day. Section14 (5) clearly mention that workers should be entitles to two nights full sleep in every period of 7 consecutive days. The rosters should be design in such a way that the agents have at least twice a month a full or a half weekend free. However, shift schedule should be designed in such a way that work on weekends is to the minimum.
Health assessments of employees should be carried out to evaluate the effects of shift work on their health. It can be design is such a way that that there is either individual medical examination or general health assessment of the whole working force involve in shift work. However, any health assessment or medical examination should be done only when employees have been given proper information why it is done and whether they agree to participate. The health assessment of employees will take into account the effects on health, the nature of the work and compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
The organisation can appoint an occupational physician to perform the health assessment or medical examination of it can be to the expense of the agent to choose their own physician and issue a certificate of fitness to undertake shift work. For workers who are not fit to undertake shift work, management should find appropriate alternate duty for the employee. Moreover, appropriate training program can be design to inform and educate agents about what can be done to reduce some effects of shift work.
Apart from the safety and health of workers at work, employer has the duty ensure welfare. Shift work does not allow agents to maintain hobbies or leisure activities and difficulties to meet family commitments. Different groups can be organised at work taking into account different interest such as support teams or organise fun day where different sports teams can be formed. Management can also sponsor employee sports leagues such as football league or volleyball league which will be accessible for both male and female.
Since work cause difficulties to meet family commitments, management can organise event bringing employee family members together to have fun for one day. Workshops can be organised on communication and conflict resolution to help employees to deal with work-family conflict but also on time management on how they can plan family activities around their time off.
Dealing with stress
Stress was also found to be a major problem among call centre agents. Figure x shows that the majority has either moderate or severe stress level. Hence it is important that management take the appropriate measures to deal with stress at the workplace. Once the existence of stress has been recognized and the stressors identified, action to deal with stress should be undertaken. If the main cause is a misfit between the demands of the environment and the individual's ability, corrective measures may be taken, either by adjusting external demands to fits the individual or by reinforcing the individual's ability to cope, or both.
The ideal solution to combat stress is to prevent its occurrence. This may be achieved by tackling the core or the problem-the cause. However, very often there are many causes and the elimination of all stressors is not possible. That is why priority should be given to the elimination of the maximum number of causes. As this cannot always be achieved in the short term, it is generally agreed that the improvement of the worker's ability to cope with stress is a valuable strategy in the process of combating stress.
Action on the worker
- The preventive approach: better recruitment of workers, counselling of workers on ways of coping with stress and workers education
- The curative approach, this is medical treatment of the sick worker, treatment for diseases like depression can be started.
- Training programmes on relaxation techniques to help the worker cope with stress: Benson's method (Yoga, Tai Chi, Transcendental Meditation etc).
- General support programmes: recreational activities, exercises amongst others
Introducing a stress policy
A stress policy will help employers demonstrate that the enterprise recognizes that stress is a serious issue and that it is committed to combating the problem. It will help both managers and employees to assess their responsibilities and the sources of help and information available. The stress policy should include the description of the symptoms of stress and stress-related illness, the responsibilities of both the organisation and employees for managing stress, relevant information regarding stress - related issues such as Employee Assistance Programme on Stress and finally a guidance for carrying out a risk assessment. It is important to note that risk assessment is an important tool for the management of health and safety at the workplace.
All the recommendation made above pertaining to the different problems identified within this study should be reviewed on a regular basis either once or twice a year. Risk assessment of the working environment done by the employer should be recorded and will be an essential document for the review process.
The evidence from this research gives a clear indication that working in call centre whether it is overseas or in Mauritius, almost the same factors have been identified. The most common factors that have been analysed in this study were the nature of work, the physical environment, shift work and stress and their respective effects on well-being and performance which somehow confirms what other studies have found when analysing the call centre industry. If proper measures are taken by management with the collaboration of the agents to address and improve both well-being and performance will also help to overcome the status of ‘electronic sweatshops' that the call centre has been given for quite a long time. However, even if many researches have shown the bad side of call centres, this sector continues to attract a large work force. Therefore, to bring the level of well-being in call centre similar to other working environments, it would be preferable that in the near future this sector provides challenging work with frequent opportunities for training, learning and development.