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The Information Centre for Occupational Hearing Conservation

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Frequently Asked Questions
- What causes it? Mechanical problem, network problem, switch problem?
- Is it serious?
- Why haven't I heard about it before?
- Will it affect my business even if I have the latest technology?
- Whose responsibility is it to avoid Acoustic Shock happening in my organisation?
- What is the legal position?
- What can I do about it?
- What are the risks if I do nothing?
- How can I tell if it is happening? There's no evidence my business gets it.
- Is my business obliged to train an employee to handle an Acoustic Shock situation?
- Does the trade union representative at my organisation need to be involved or trained?
- My headset vendor says it hardly ever happens so why do I need to do anything?
- Doesn't my headset already protect me from Acoustic Shock?
- What do I get from the Acoustic Safety Programme?
- What about ongoing support after the event, course and workshop?
- What if I'm being taken to court, can I get any help then?
- Is the Programme Accredited by an authorised body?
 
Answers
- What causes it? Mechanical problem, network problem, switch problem?
  The basic cause is a sudden, unexpected noise, often delivered at a very intense frequency. Call Centre operatives are subject to this noise from a variety of sources. The telephone equipment used in call centres produces electrical feedback, latent sonic energy spikes, together with faulty telephone lines, non compliant switchboards, turrets and headsets. The HSE have also made reference to other sources of acoustic damage as caller abuse (shouting, screaming, blowing whistles etc), background interference at the caller's location or ambient noise in the operator's location.
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- Is it serious?
  It is a very serious issue, as symptoms not only vary from temporary impairment to permanent deafness and physical damage, but also, whilst these effects are often instantaneous, long term disabilities may take some time to surface.
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- Why haven't I heard about it before?
  The call centre industry itself is still relatively young (15 to 20 years) and has sustained massive changes in technology and practices. The establishment and acknowledgement of the problem has naturally taken some time to come about. In addition, whilst cases of acoustic shock have entered litigation, the employers involved have all settled out of court before a precedent judgement can be made, and this has allowed the public profile to remain very low.
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- Will it affect my business even if I have the latest technology?
  Yes. The technology to eradicate this problem has not yet been developed. In addition, call centre technology, legislation and industry practices are constantly changing.
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- Whose responsibility is it to avoid Acoustic Shock happening in my organisation?
  Everyone in every organisation is responsible for the health and safety of themselves and all others in the working environment. There are, however, people within every organisation that are responsible for overseeing the well-being of its employees. These individuals are; Health & Safety Officer, Human Resources Manager, Call/contact centre Manager, Call Centre team manager/Supervisor.
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- What is the legal position?
  Every employer must comply with; The Health & Safety at Work Act, The Noise at Work Regulations, and the Health & Safety Executive guidelines.
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- What can I do about it?
  The Health & Safety Executive recommend that you attend an educational/awareness programme in order to ensure that the well-being of telephone operators is protected.
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- What are the risks if I do nothing?
  Thousands of cases of Acoustic Shock have been reported around the world with over 200 cases of compensation entering litigation, resulting in over £10,000,000 paid by employers to date.
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- How can I tell if it is happening? There's no evidence my business gets it.
  This is the biggest concern. Whilst some call centre equipment has been fitted with filters or limiters, this will not eliminate acoustic shock, or prevent it, or minimise it, and, therefore, two specific courses of action are required. The organisation's current systems need to be checked and verified, and a permanent recording device installed so that any claims of Acoustic Shock can be verified.
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- Is my business obliged to train an employee to handle an Acoustic Shock situation?
  As with all Health & Safety issues, yes! The EU directive 86/188/EC and regulation subsequently 2003/10/EC require sufficient competency in this area that training is inevitable.
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- Does the trade union representative at my organisation need to be involved or trained?
  Certainly.
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- My headset vendor says it hardly ever happens so why do I need to do anything?
  CCMA (UK) Ltd has invited all the UK's headset manufacturers to present their range of equipment and other solutions at the Acoustic Safety Programme events, and their attendance clearly recognises that this is a very clear and present danger, regardless of what salespeople may say in the marketplace.
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- Doesn't my headset already protect me from Acoustic Shock?
  It is a commonly held misconception that; whilst the noise limitation technology in modern telephone headsets goes a long way toward protecting operators from extreme volumes, this will not necessarily prevent acoustic shock, and it certainly won't record the event or alert an employer that the health and safety of a member of staff has been compromised.

Whilst volume is clearly a contributory factor, it is only one of a number of factors that make up the issue as a whole. It is the lack of knowledge and awareness of all these factors and their interaction with each other that the Acoustic Safety Programme will address.
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- What do I get from the Acoustic Safety Programme?
  The world's first end to end awareness, education and training programme, presented by the world's foremost authorities on the issues; such as Keith Broughton (former HM Principal Specialist Inspector - Noise & Vibration), and Dr Andrew Graham-Cumming (Occupational Health Physician) together with representatives from telephony manufacturers.
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- What about ongoing support after the event, course and workshop?
  Naturally an event of this nature is not all encompassing, and its scope goes well beyond the day itself. Attendees, once in receipt of the material delivered, will need to go back to the workplace and apply the education and training. To help identify problems and potential threats, and to suggest the proper and compliant courses of action to deal with them, the ASP post event support team will be available.
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- What if I'm being taken to court, can I get any help then?
  The Acoustic Safety Programme is designed to offer help and support to every employer and employee in all circumstances.
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- Is the Programme Accredited by an authorised body?
  Yes. Apart from being delivered by CCMA (a not-for-profit organisation), the Acoustic Safety Programme endorses the HSE Acoustic Shock Guidelines which is supported by Communications Workers Union (CWU), Institute of Acoustics (IOA) and the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI).
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