What Contact Center Supervisors Need To Know About Acoustic Shock

Written by KOVA Corp

Acoustic shock. It’s something you probably have never heard of, but it’s been around for over a decade. If you aren’t aware of the term, not knowing might just imperil the acoustic safety of your contact center workforce.

Acoustic shock disorder (ASD) is a condition that occurs when unannounced sounds, ones that are materially different to normal speech known as white noise, travel through a telephone line or a web interface in the space of under 16 milliseconds, and into the headset. The bursts of white noise are then transmitted through agents’ headsets, causing damage to ears. First isolated as a condition 15 years ago, it is a devastating 21st century industrial injury problem. Since the call center industry has more than doubled in those 15 years, the number of at risk personnel is vast and growing. This is why it isimmediate health problem that needs awareness.


Pain And Suffering

The sounds produced can vary. The effect can be described as consisting of a single frequency, or of a rising frequency sounding very much like a bang or clang. The impact this high concentrated frequency sound can have on the eardrum runs the gamut from pain and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) to hyperacusis (hypersensitivity to sound). Multiple exposures to these burst of sounds can lead to serious heath issues, resulting in work time loss.

Initial symptoms include:

  • a severe startle reaction, often with a head and neck jerk
  • a shock/trauma reaction
  • disorientation
  • distress
  • shakiness
  • crying
  • headache
  • fatigue.
  • A severe ASD can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). ASD, however, generally does not result in hearing loss.

Severe symptoms include:

  • pressure or tympanic fluttering in the ear
  • painful burning, or numbness around the ear, jaw, or neck
  • tinnitus, hyperacusis and phonophobia
  • mild vertigo and nausea
  • headache
  • subjective muffled or distorted hearing.

Acoustic shock disorder does not cause hearing loss, but in the rare occasion that it does, rather than being a high frequency pattern induced injury, it affects low and mid frequency sensorineural hearing.

cutting edge call center

Managing Acoustic Shock: Education And Prevention

With the identification of ASD, output limiters in headset equipment have been developed to restrict maximum volume levels transmitted down a telephone line. However, ASD continues to occur despite their use, because headset equipment is not the only way acoustic shock disorder can occur.

Examples of sounds that can cause acoustic shock injury:

  • Incorrectly dialled fax machines
  • Faults on the telephone line that cause loud shrieks
  • IP network shrieks
  • Power supply failures
  • Maliciously generated noises - screaming or blowing a whistle down the line.
  • Mobile phone interference
  • Callers dropping their handset on to a desktop.

Technology is available to measure worker noise exposure before and after the device has been attached, and to store the data for up to six weeks, thus providing a continuous noise risk assessment among a group of workers. However, limiting the sound output does not completely prevent acoustic shock injuries, because acoustic shrieks can occur at low volumes as well. But, with the proper equipment, we can take at least try and eliminate most of the risks.

While preventative measures can be implemented by means of adapting operator headset technology, the key to ensuring the best work environment for your team is to include ASD awareness in your contact center employee training program. Make sure each team members knows what ASD is, how it occurs, and what the symptoms are. The better informed your employees are, the earlier the problems will be noticed, hence making them quickly diagnosed and treated accordingly.

Contact center supervisors should be trained to recognize the validity of acoustic shock as a danger to an employee’s heath, as well as having a procedure in place to address any instances reported to them.

Contact center team members need to be made aware of the dangers of an acoustic shock event, what it is, and what they should do in the event of experiencing one.

By empowering contact center staff to protect and care for their own heath, you can adapt to situations in a timely and efficient manner – benefiting the team member and the team as a whole.

Because of the growth of the industry, instances of ASD are on the rise, ranging from mild to severe. As a work safety issue unique to the industry, every call center should be aware of the dangers of acoustic shock and have procedures and training outlined to cope with it. A business's success would not be fulfilled without the employees, so it is imperative that we take care of each and every team member.

Is Your Organization Ready to Optimize their Public Safety Systems?