Health risks at call centers probed

Published by rudy Date posted on March 2, 2007

BAGUIO CITY—Researchers of a Baguio hospital have started looking into medical problems that appear to be common among employees of call centers and other business process outsourcing (BPO) facilities operating at the Baguio City Economic Zone.

Dr. Leopoldo Calimlim, chief of an industrial medicine facility at the Notre Dame Hospital, said doctors have been treating 10 to 14 call center employees at the zone every day for various medical complaints.

This has compelled Danilo Reyes, president of the Business Process Association of the Philippines (BPAP), to commission a comprehensive medical investigation, Calimlim said.

Reyes is also the country manager of the call center giant Client Logic Philippines, which merged in January with Sitel Philippines to form the new Sitel Corp.

At a Wednesday press conference that was organized to announce the merger, Reyes said these medical studies were essential because they would help the country’s business process outsourcing industry get information about potential health hazards at BPO work places.

People matter

“Without our people, there are no companies,” he told reporters.

Calimlim said existing medical reports had been confined to the effects of sleep deprivation on industrial workers.

Several studies documented the illnesses affecting workers at Silicon Valley in the United States. These led local doctors to examine call center employees for gastroenteritis, insomnia, and peptic ulcers, which are prevalent among workers abroad, Calimlim said.

But studies dealing with Filipino call centers are few, much less with workers assigned to work on different time zones, he said.

Most centers assign workers to the night shift when most of the work traffic occurs. This is because most call centers have American clients. The US time zone is 12 hours behind Philippine time, so most workers end up working on that shift.

Calimlim said Baguio doctors had been dealing with employees who suffered from weakened immune systems, which often led to serious ailments.

Lack of sleep

Doctors need to find out if the weakened immunity is caused by sleep deprivation, diet, or the conditions of the BPO facilities, he said.

He said the probe was inspired by former employees of a leading semiconductor firm at the Baguio City Economic Zone who blamed their work conditions for their illnesses, including cancer.

But researchers could not find any conclusive evidence linking the workers suffering from terminal illnesses to the firm’s equipment, Calimlim said.

BCEZ officials said they conducted an independent survey of work conditions inside these facilities and discovered workers who suffered from back pains and muscle ailments.

“Many of these conditions are caused by heavy lifting and duties that require physical movement, but most of the [factories here] have corrected this,” an official said. –Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer

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