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Report On Health And Safety Debates At T&FS Conference 2019

Derek Maylor, Chair of North West BT Unions Health & Safety Co-ord

Mental Health

Mental Health is the largest single cause of disability in the UK and Mental health disorders are particularly prevalent in call centres which are often pressurised and target driven environments. Close monitoring of call taking staff can prevent them taking necessary measures to maintain mental wellbeing. People who deal with customers and clients by telephone are often subjected to aggression and verbal abuse.

The Health and Safety Executive's definition of work-related violence includes verbal abuse and threats as well as physical attacks, and employers have a legal responsibility to reduce the risk of any form of violence to staff. Verbal abuse, and the fear of verbal abuse, can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing so we will ensure that all work areas adhere to HSE legislation and guidance around managing verbal abuse and have mental health first aiders and advocates in place to help where issues do arise.

In some companies where the CWU has members we have working relationship with the employer allowing a formal awareness session within the training programme of all new staff. Denying access to new starters in a controlled environment is not healthy nor does it foster transparency or good working relations and we will secure formal CWU awareness sessions built into all new starter training groups.

Mental Health First Aiders allow the businesses not only to identify early signs of risk to employees but support a range of issues that face members and new employees in the contact centre environments in modern workplaces; every manager should be trained as a mental health First Aider.

All workers need a meaningful break away from work so that they can recharge their batteries. Workplaces are fast becoming target rich environments, driven by organisational processes and policies that often serve to increase pressure and stress on the staff employed within. However in some companies there is not enough holiday allowance for the number staff employed and this is creating discord and friction between all who try and book holidays. We need an increase in the annual leave percentage which in turn will encourage much maligned staff time to recover with opportunities to enjoy a healthy work life balance.

Suicide Risk and Wellbeing

We need a process to address suicidal and abusive callers to assist members with a positioning statement within a new process to support the most vulnerable of customers when suicide is suggested, whilst helping managing the wellbeing and stress of members dealing with such calls alongside a more effective process when such calls are abusive in their nature to ensure the health and safety of our members is considered and supported with a warning email sent to repeat offending customers to protect member’s health and wellbeing.

BT Attendance Policy and Health

BT’s current attendance policy does not adequately reflect the needs of those members with a disability. Further to this, the harmonisation of policies in line with the recently acquired EE and the quality of advice given to managers by HR in many cases indicates little awareness of the obligations on employers under the Equality Act 2010.

In addition, members with a disability having less than two years tenure are also impacted by the New Joiners procedure, potentially leaving them more vulnerable to dismissal. We need urgent discussion with BT to ensure that a disability related sick leave policy is created and implemented, this to include all members regardless of tenure. Also, for improvements to the current attendance management process & guidance when dealing with those experiencing mental health issues or living with neurodiversity. This should improve the offering of EAP / Stream / Wellbeing resources, to allow work time for members to access them, and clearly prohibit blame and bias towards members who have declined to utilise them. Ensuring genuine and equitable managerial discretion on matters such as ringfencing / discounting of absences, decisions not to proceed formally and accommodation of lesser sanctions; the benefit to members should be demonstrable and not used to undermine agreed process.

Women's Health

We will pursue a policy with BT which recognises the menopause as an occupational health issue for women. The policy will aim to raise awareness, ensure that reasonable adjustments to working practices and attendance patterns are considered and ensure that periods of absence related to the menopause are treated sympathetically. At the same time we will negotiate a Domestic Violence Policy with employers wherever we have members.

Vehicle Safety In BT

BT Fleet supply Openreach with a range of vehicles to meet the varying needs of the business. An issue has been raised regarding the large commercial vans with a yellow painted metal rear step which when wet is very slippy. Even though slits and holes are drilled to try to create grip in the wet they are ineffective due to the smooth surface of the paint, particularly on the edge. We suggest a change to the design, possibly with a grip type material as part of a recall to the current fleet. This could be done when the affected vehicles are serviced to make the appropriate alterations to make the step safer to use for our field engineers.

Hygiene and Cleanliness of BT Estate

The potential impact the outsourcing of BT Property & Facilities Services will have a detrimental effect upon the maintenance and investment on the BT Estate. Apart from prime locations we have seen very little investment from BT to create better working environments. Many exchanges and building are in states of disrepair, with many environmental and safety issues resulting. Fault reporting often sees a slow and inadequate response to building faults and general maintenance. We need ensure that with the move to outsourced facilities providers BT does not allow our workplaces to fall into further states of disrepair or allow poor environmental conditions which our members have to work in.

We are concerned about the deterioration in the standards of cleanliness of rooms, windows, furniture and outdoor spaces within the BT estate especially in those buildings containing technical equipment rather than desk-based workers. Many buildings have seen a serious reduction in the amount of time and frequency of visits allowed for each site resulting in only the basics being cleaned during a visit such as welfare and toilet areas. After many years of this prioritising, windows, windowsills, shelves and hard surfaces such as tables and desks located in the buildings but outside the welfare areas have built up layers of dirt and dust and have fallen into neglect. There needs to be a programme to thoroughly clean up the BT estate and then maintain standards of cleanliness.

USR Paid Time Off As Per H&S Legilsation Under Attack

There is increased pressure being put on USR’s when having to justify their time to the company and its employee relations because the company only allocate time for building inspections. USR’s complete a range of safety work which includes many factors outside of just buildings, e.g. accident investigations, street furniture inspections, engineer visits and educating members on safety etc. Branch USR’s have faced scrutiny and it would appear have been targeted by the company in an effort to reduce allocated safety time. We will ensure that safety time is not just based on allocated building time, but takes into consideration the various duties carried out by USR’s.

Safey When working Outdoors

Following a recent pole top emergency which failed at the initial call process, it was discovered in the outcome of the investigation, that there are currently two variations of the Pole Top emergency response, when calling the Pole Top Rescue telephone number. There we need to find an urgent solution to provide an equivalent and efficient emergency control Pole Top rescue service to locate the node and the address location for nonwork manager team members as afforded to work manager controlled team members.

There are potential dangers in working near water for thousands of members, it is essential that the current CBT “Working on or near Water” be made mandatory, to ensure awareness prior to carrying out their pre work Risk Assessment.

Other issues raised were asbestos in legacy soldering iron holders and access to roadside cabinets. Further concerns on support for members with mental ill-health issues, the ability for their female workers to access free sanitary products whilst attending work, free flu jabs which would help to improve the attendance and welfare of all staff.

Hearing Health In BT's Call Centres

There has been a significant increase in the number of Noise Interference Incidents within the Contact Centre environment over the last year or so. Many of these have caused severe damage to the members hearing e.g. hearing loss and tinnitus.

It would be beneficial to our members to evaluate their hearing at the earliest possible opportunity and a record kept should they suffer such an incident whilst working or indeed after prolonged wearing of headsets. All staff required to wear headsets for prolonged periods should be given a comprehensive hearing test so that their individual hearing can be benched marked. Currently there is no way of telling if hearing has changed in any way after time on line or after an acoustic incident.

Environmental Polution And Health

Studies have demonstrated an association between different levels of air pollution and various health outcomes including mortality, exacerbation of asthma, chronic bronchitis, respiratory tract infections, ischaemic heart disease and stroke. Diesel exhaust particles are one of the most significant air pollutants putting our members at risk on a daily basis, whether, driving or working on the telecoms network at the roadside. We will negotiate with BT to develop air pollution policies and guidance in order to get our members better protection from diesel exhaust particles.

Derek Maylor 2 May 2019

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