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April 20, 2012

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Call centres ignoring vocal health

One in four call-centre agents suffers voice problems because managers are failing to properly protect their health, according to new research.

The study, commissioned by IOSH and released earlier this week to coincide with World Voice Day, found that call-handlers had suffered one or more of a range of ill-effects – including voice loss, sore throats and breathlessness – on account of their work.

Researchers at Ulster University surveyed nearly 600 call handlers from 14 call centres across the UK and Ireland, as part of an 18-month project. Around one in 10 were diagnosed with a voice problem, while a similar number said their work was now suffering because of the stress placed on their vocal cords.

Three-fifths reported having difficulty making themselves heard against background noise, and more than one in three call agents also said their voice was hoarse often, or very often. New starters, particularly female workers, were identified as a high-risk group, who are more likely to develop voice problems.

Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Dr Diane Hazlett said: “This industry incurs high vocal demands, which can affect vocal flexibility and capacity over time. Altered voice quality or vocal strength may impact on the call-handler’s confidence, or ability to fully engage the customer. For these professional voice users, a strong reliable voice is needed to ensure consistent and effective work performance.”

Telephone interviews with senior managers indicated that call agents receive regular, comprehensive job training – both at induction and throughout their time in the role. However, it appears that most of these training programmes fail to cover voice care and effectiveness.

Dr Hazlett added: “Policies on voice care should exist in all call-centre environments, and should be reviewed regularly. In future, 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.”

IOSH executive director of policy Dr Luise Vassie said investing in voice training and raising awareness of the issues could benefit business.

“In the current economic climate purse strings are tight and businesses are wary of spending ‘unnecessarily’,” she explained. “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.”

For a copy of the ‘Working Voices’ research, visit

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