employers staffing issues
Daily work routine of users
Regulation 4 of the DSER does not demand that breaks are necessarily rest breaks. They can be changes in activity which enable call handlers to take breaks from such intensive use of display screen equipment whilst simultaneously interacting with customers on the telephone. If these changes of activity are not possible, adequate rest breaks away from the workstation must be scheduled to control the potential physical and psychological health risks.
- Eyes: Breaks give call handlers' eyes an opportunity to focus at different distances and the chance to rest so reducing the risk of visual fatigue and associated symptoms such as headaches.
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs): Walking around and stretching during breaks exercises muscles and increases blood circulation which relieves tension and reduces the risk of visual fatigue and MSDs.
- Hearing: Breaks from the headsets help to control call handlers' daily noise exposure.
- Voice: Giving the voice a break from talking to customers may reduce the risk of voice health problems.
- Stress: With more frequent breaks, call handlers may also be able to cope better with the demands of their work.
Although breaks of only one or two seconds reduce these risks, such micro-pauses are not long enough for call handlers to recover and relax. Longer breaks should, therefore, also be scheduled and enforced by supervisors.
Call handlers should have their break allocation clearly explained to them and understand why it is important to take their breaks. Call handlers should also have the benefits of leaving their workstation at breaktimes explained to them, and they should also appreciate why spending their breaks surfing the Internet or e-mailing friends mean they are not taking the proper break from a computer that they need.
Legal requirements and recommendations
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 do not specify the duration or frequency of breaks or changes of activity, as they apply to a wide variety of jobs which use display screen equipment. However, they do state that breaks should be taken before the onset of fatigue rather than to recuperate and short, frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional, longer breaks. A study suggests that call handlers are scheduled a minimum break of five minutes in every hour or 15 minutes in every two hours. This can be a change in activity or a rest break. DSER also places a duty on employers to plan the work routine of users so that these regular rest breaks or changes in activity occur. Exact times do not necessarily have to be specified. It is acceptable to schedule a period within which call handlers are free to choose when to take their break when it is convenient to them. Lunch breaks are in addition to these recommendations, and call handlers must also be allowed to go to the toilet and fetch water/drinks when they need to. Call handlers should also be allowed to take a break after handling a stressful call. The introduction of any change to daily work routine which may substantially affect call handlers' health and safety should be made in consultation with call handlers or their representatives in good time.