Research by University of Ulster experts has found that one in four call-centre workers suffer from voice problems.
The study, commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and released today, World Voice Day 2012, found that call handlers had suffered one or more of a range of ill-effects because of their work, including voice loss, sore throats and breathlessness.
Researchers at Ulster University led by Dr Diane Hazlett (pictured) Head of the School of Communication, surveyed nearly 600 call handlers from 14 call centres across the UK and Ireland, as part of their study.
As part of the 18 month-long project, the researchers found that while call centre workers receive regular, comprehensive job training, few of these training programmes cover voice care issues.
Dr Hazlett said: “The voice is a primary work tool for one in three jobs in the UK – not only in call centres, but also in broadcast journalism, teaching, government , IT, telesales, retailing, marketing, customer care, the hospitality sector and more. Not helping workers look after their voices is an increasingly serious business risk.”
She and IOSH called on employers to put in place urgent measures to address the health issues — and consequent business disruption and cost — that can be caused by voice problems among staff.
Dr Hazlett added: “Policies on voice care should exist in all call centre environments, and should be reviewed regularly. Going forward, there needs to be an emphasis on the prevention of voice problems within the industry – to maintain optimal vocal health. Employers in this sector need to show they better recognise just how important the voice is, to having a healthy, well supported workforce and a thriving business.”
Dr Hazlett’s research suggests employers take the following into consideration:
· New starters, especially women, are most at risk as they adjust to the heavy vocal demands of the job
· Risk can be minimised with good work design and by providing information and training
· Regular breaks, a change of activity and readjustment of posture will help
· Keeping the throat lubricated (air quality, humidity, ventilation and temperature can play a part in this)
· Computers and equipment should be set up correctly to help call handlers maintain a good posture.
Dr Luise Vassie, executive director of policy at IOSH, said: “The results from the research are eye-opening.
“People who depend on their voices within their day-to-day role, such as actors and singers, often have training on how to control and protect their voice — call agents should be no different.”
IOSH’s Dr Vassie said investing in voice training and raising awareness of the issues could benefit business. She added: “In the current economic climate purse strings are tight and businesses are wary of spending ‘unnecessarily’. Vocal health doesn’t have to cost a fortune, in fact most things, like ensuring call agents keep their throats lubricated by drinking water regularly, are simply common sense and low cost.
“By educating staff on voice care issues, they become more aware of the risks they face and how they can be prevented – this can lead to reduced absence levels, a more efficient way of working, and, in the long run, business profitability.”
IOSH is the chartered body for health and safety professionals. With more than 40,000 members in 85 countries, we’re the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation.
We set standards, and support, develop and connect our members with resources, guidance, events and training. We’re the voice of the profession, and campaign on issues that affect millions of working people.
IOSH was founded in 1945 and is a registered charity with international NGO status.