Case study 3 - Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council: Identifying stress hazards in call centres
Stockport are carrying out a general Health and Safety initiative aimed at the main health hazards in the call centre sector. Stress has been identified as one of the principal health risks to staff working in these environments. Inspections were targeted at premises where the main job activity involved using a display screen and a telephone simultaneously - 18 centres were identified in total.
Stockport's Health and Safety officers prepared for the inspections by:
- Seeking advice from other LAs who had undertaken similar initiatives
- Attending a course on stress
- Receiving training from a HSE noise specialist
- All the centres were inspected using an inspection form designed to reflect HSE guidance relating to call centres for Local Authority inspectors. Inspectors looked at the following areas:
- Working targets (eg the number of calls to be made) and penalties for not meeting them
- Amount of time staff are expected to spend taking calls
- Performance monitoring and opportunities for staff to feedback on it
- The extent to which the capability and capacity of individuals is taken into account when assigning tasks
- Awareness of stress issues throughout the company
- The availability of facilities for stress relief
- Staff turnover
The following measures were taken as a result of the visits:
- A copy of HSE's guidance "Tackling work-related stress: a managers' guide" was given to health and safety representatives at each call centre. Employee leaflets were also distributed.
- Advice was given to managers on the way team performance is published as it was felt that the current arrangements were causing undue stress.
- Similarly, it was also recommended that the practice of publishing individual performance within the office be revised.
- It was emphasised that team-building exercises can serve a useful purpose, but only if they are tailored to encourage all team members to feel comfortable with participating.
- The centres are to be revisited within 6 months to assess the impacts of any improvements.
- Local Authority inspectors and Environmental Health Officers can play a useful role in helping organisations to identify stress-related hazards.
- The process of identifying hazards must be followed up with appropriate action to tackle them.