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Manual tasks

Contact centre operators may be exposed to the risk of musculoskeletal injury (e.g. soft tissue injuries to the neck, shoulder, back, wrists, and hands) as a result of hazardous manual tasks involving:

  • working postures (such as sitting in awkward or sustained positions), which can result in straining affected body parts or discomfort due to reduced blood flow through the muscles
  • repetitive movements, which may result in increased 'wear and tear' of body tissue and greater potential for muscle fatigue
  • duration of a task (or long periods of time doing similar activities without a break), which can have a substantial effect on the likelihood of both general and muscle fatigue.

More information on manual tasks is provided in the Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 2.23 MB) and Part 4.2 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (the WHS Regulation).

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

A musculoskeletal disorder affects the bones and soft tissue structures (other than organs) of the body.

How to manage the risks

It is important to make sure operators work in well supported and comfortable postures during their shift.

You can reduce manual tasks risks in contact centres by:

  • designing well-planned work areas
  • using adjustable workstation equipment and furniture
  • improving the work organisation.

Work area design

Work area design comprises all components of the workplace used by a person when carrying out work, including:

  • work surfaces
  • materials and equipment
  • furniture.

The Ergonomics guide to computer-based workstations (PDF, 0.91 MB) will give you information and guidance on work area design, including:

  • features of office furniture (section 2)
  • features of computer hardware and peripherals and other equipment (section 3)
  • multiple monitors(section 3)
  • setting up your workstation (section 3)
  • hot desking (sections 2, 3 and 4)
  • lighting and glare (section 6)
  • prescription eyewear (section 4).

Work organisation

The way in which work is organised in contact centres can increase the musculoskeletal and psychological demands placed upon operators. Contact centres can put a number of measures in place to improve work organisation organised. Key issues to consider are:

  • breaks and task variation
  • the design of the software user interface
  • staffing levels
  • scheduling of work loads
  • training and supervision.

Breaks and task variation

Contact centre operators often work in the same position for long periods – this is considered to be sedentary work (PDF, 0.11 MB) . This can lead to fatigue, overexertion or contribute to injuries, such as sprains or strains. Due to the nature of contact centre work, there is a limited variety in the tasks that operators need to perform.

Effective strategies to encourage regular changes in operators' posture/activity include:

  • varying or rotating tasks to encourage changes in posture (e.g. performance of administrative tasks away from workstation)
  • scheduling/encouraging short regular breaks away from workstation e.g. personal hygiene and refreshment breaks. Workers should be given some flexibility in timing these breaks. This can be used to help workers recover from the emotional demands of the job.
  • promoting/encouraging workers to stand up and move around the workstation where possible during or between calls
  • taking micro pauses (e.g. moving the hand off the mouse/keyboard when not using them)
  • locating printers/faxes/forms away from the workstation to encourage movement
  • using sit/stand workstations.

When scheduling work breaks, consider the location of amenities, including the distance away from the work area, to allow adequate time to access these amenities.

What is a user interface?

A user interface (of a computer program) is the link between the contact centre operators and how they control and access the computer software system.

Benefits for the operator and the organisation of a well designed user interface include:

  • increased productivity and satisfaction
  • reduced inputting (keystrokes/mouse usage)
  • decreased errors
  • less training time
  • a reduction in manual tasks and psychosocial risks.

Consulting qualified specialists can assist the workplace to minimise the risks associated with user interface design. These specialists can work with operators as part of the development process to trial the system before it goes live or a new system is purchased.

What are the general principles for user interface design?

Consistency and standards

Operators should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow industry and company standards and conventions throughout the system.

Visibility of the system state

Operators should be informed about what is going on with the system through appropriate feedback and display of information.

Match between the system and world

Use language (words, phrases and concepts) that is familiar to the operator. Information should appear in a natural and logical order when going from one part of the system to another.

Minimalist

Keep information to a minimum – any additional information is a distraction and slows down the work process.

Minimise memory load

Operators should not be required to memorise a lot of information to carry out tasks. Memory load reduces users' capacity to carry out the main tasks.

Informative feedback

Give operators prompt and informative feedback about their actions.

Flexibility and efficiency

Operators access and apply information in different ways. Give operators the flexibility of creating individual customisations and shortcuts to accelerate their performance.

Good error messages

The messages should be informative enough such that operators can understand the nature of errors, learn from errors, and recover from errors.

Prevent errors

It is always better to design interfaces that prevent errors from happening in the first place.

Clear closure

Every task has a beginning and an end. Clearly notify operators about the completion of a task.

How to manage staffing levels

Appropriate staffing levels to meet work demands and time pressures can minimise the risk of psychological and musculoskeletal injuries. When setting performance benchmarks, consideration should be given to:

  • the type of product or service being provided
  • peak call periods
  • the emotional demands of work
  • the skills of the operator
  • the introduction of new 'scripts'.

Ensure staffing levels match work demands, including peak periods, to cover work breaks and during periods of change in the way that work is organised or services are delivered.

How to manage shiftwork and recovery

Shiftwork increases stress which can lead to fatigue and domestic/social difficulties. Control strategies may include:

  • training workers in the possible health effects of shiftwork and provide strategies on how to manage them
  • providing flexible rosters well in advance, particularly for night and weekend work
  • incorporating tasks, where practicable, that involve interaction with co-workers or activity to maintain alertness on night shifts
  • allowing enough time between shifts for rest and recovery.

What training and supervision do workers need?

Workers should be:

  • trained and supervised in the set up and how to use and adjust their workstation furniture and equipment
  • trained in how to do their job competently, provided with resources for decision-making and given access to extra training if needed
  • trained on how to recognise signs of fatigue or stress
  • encouraged to seek assistance from a supervisor when dealing with difficult calls
  • allowed enough time to adjust their workstation at the start of their shift and during their shift if they are required to change workstations
  • given clear advice on how calls will be monitored, including electronic recordings
  • consulted with and involved in pre-purchase trials of equipment and furniture
  • able to report any faulty furniture or equipment
  • given recognition for a job well done.