It is often assumed that occupational hearing loss is only a concern for those in construction or heavy manufacturing businesses. However, thousands of employees working in call or contact centres use headsets for a significant portion of their day, which can be a potential source of dangerous noise exposure.
Should one, or a number of your workforce suffer hearing loss or damage which could be associated with their job role, your business may face significant Employers Liability claims under your Office Insurance Policy.
What Are The Potential Risks?
Contact Centre workers face several hazards that can contribute to hearing loss over time. Acoustic trauma resulting from sudden spikes in noise level as well as background noise from either the incoming call or the surrounding workplace can all contribute to stress on the ear.
Anyone who has worked in a call centre environment will be familiar with a sudden high pitched sound, which is often related to headset fault. This particular issue is known as Acoustic Shock, which can lead to hearing damage.
Business systems such as heating and air conditioning systems, or proximity of colleagues and even loud conditions at the caller’s location can all cause workers to increase the volume level on their headsets.
Other risks involve failure or malfunction of the headset itself, such as uncontrolled volume fluctuation, feedback or static generate from poor connections, all of which can increase stress on an employee’s hearing over a prolonged period.
What Are The Recommended Noise Levels?
To limit the amount of damaging noise call centre workers are exposed to during a given timeframe, it is recommended that the noise exposure does not exceed 85 decibels (dB) over an eight-hour time-weighted average. When exposure exceeds these recommendations, conditions are considered to be hazardous and employees hearing could be at risk.
Evaluating the Risk
Hearing damage and Acoustic Shock is much more common than you might think. In a survey of a BT Centre in 2005, nearly 30% of the call centre staff suffered acoustic shocks over a 48 hour period!
Researchers have also found that employees regularly compensate for noisy environments by exceeding the recommended 85 dB allowance by up to 25 dB. The knock on issue here is that when employees increase their headset volume to compensate for softer audio levels, they leave the volume 4 to18 dB above normal when normal sound levels return.
In today’s litigious society, one successful compensation claim for hearing loss can lead to multiple claims under your employers’ liability policy across your current and previous workforce. The legal profession has highlighted the potential link between long-term hearing problems and working environments leading to heighten claim volumes, all of which need to be carefully managed by your business and your liability insurer.
While Office Insurance is generally regarded as low risk, multiple claims can have a significant impact on your business reputation and long term Office Insurance premiums.
How To Prevent Hearing Damage Claims
As an employer, you have a duty of care to provide all your employees, including contact centre staff, with a safe working environment. You can reduce harmful noise exposure by instituting the following proper risk management controls and programmes to help employee safely carry out their duties:
- Supply communication systems with noise limiting or cancelling features.
- Install control features in the workplace to reduce background noise. Barriers between workers and sound-absorbing materials can help reduce noise in louder workspaces.
- Provide a variety of headset options so employees can find the pair that is best suited for their work style and environment.
- In the name of safety, strive to create a quiet work environment.
- Establish a training programme that educates employees on the dangers of noise exposure above 85 dB, as well as the effective use of noise-control features.
- Implement a hearing conservation programme for employees who may be exposed to noise in excess of 85 dB. The programme should include a yearly hearing test and provisions for reducing exposure levels.
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